Plenty of berries await this year’s wild blueberry harvest

Posted July 27, 2012, at 4:51 p.m.
Last modified July 29, 2012, at 8:05 a.m.

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Recent rain showers and irrigation have ensured there will be no shortage of wild blueberries to pick this year when the harvest begins next Monday.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Recent rain showers and irrigation have ensured there will be no shortage of wild blueberries to pick this year when the harvest begins next Monday.
Juana Vazquez, 21, will be busy for the next few weeks, serving up ethnic breakfasts, lunches and dinners for blueberry harvest rakers living within the Jasper Wyman migrant housing complex in Deblois. This steak plate is among the best-selling entrees served by her family's mobile kitchen.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Juana Vazquez, 21, will be busy for the next few weeks, serving up ethnic breakfasts, lunches and dinners for blueberry harvest rakers living within the Jasper Wyman migrant housing complex in Deblois. This steak plate is among the best-selling entrees served by her family's mobile kitchen.
Days before the harvest, wild blueberries are being irrigated by Cherryfield Foods, one of Down East Maine's largest producers.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Days before the harvest, wild blueberries are being irrigated by Cherryfield Foods, one of Down East Maine's largest producers.
Bears love honey. Even ceramic bears. This bruin is a lawn ornament that marks the 150 acres of wild blueberry barrens being tended in Columbia by Tom Worcester.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Bears love honey. Even ceramic bears. This bruin is a lawn ornament that marks the 150 acres of wild blueberry barrens being tended in Columbia by Tom Worcester.

COLUMBIA, Maine — Washington County’s thousands of acres of wild blueberries are bursting with fruit for this year’s harvest, which begins Monday at sunrise.

“It looks like it’ll be a good crop,” said Tom Worcester, who tends 150 acres of blueberry barrens along Pea Ridge Road in Columbia.

This is Worcester’s 40th year of harvesting blueberries, having learned the ropes from his father, who began harvesting berries in 1935.

While those vacationing in Down East Maine won’t appreciate a weekend forecast that includes rain showers, Worcester is delighted. His berries have plumped up nicely this past week, he said, given a wave of scattered showers.

“I don’t like those irrigated berries,” he says. “Too much water; not enough berry. And, given all the fertilizer they use now, I don’t call them ‘wild’ blueberries anymore.”

Worcester said he has heard that growers in southern Maine and in New Hampshire have seen their blueberry crops affected by a lack of rain. He figures he’ll have plenty this year and plans to sell his entire crop to Cherryfield Foods in nearby Cherryfield.

That firm has thousands of acres ready for harvest in the barrens that surround Worcester’s acres. Despite recent rains, some of the lowbush blueberry bushes within Cherryfield’s patchwork quilt of barrens were being irrigated Friday morning by water cannons that send plumes of mist over hundreds of feet of fruit.

Just north of Columbia, the Maine Migrant Health Program was setting up shop Friday at a “pickers’ center” that includes a semitrailer that serves as a food bank and a mobile free medical clinic. Both will open their doors when the harvest begins next week.

Migrant workers started arriving this week at the housing area adjacent to the expanse of barrens in Deblois owned by Jasper Wyman & Son, which is the largest of Maine’s blueberry growers and processors. The cabins and dormitory facilities within the camp, which is nine miles north of Cherryfield on Route 193, will house hundreds of rakers throughout the harvest, which is expected to extend well into August.

The Vazquez family, who live year-round in nearby Milbridge, moved their “Comida Mexicana Familia Vazquez” Mexican food truck to the Wyman’s housing compound earlier this week and began serving their extensive menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings on Thursday. On Friday, rakers relaxed in the shade of a large makeshift tent affixed to the Vazquez’s mobile kitchen. Those not eating took turns shooting pool, while others watched Spanish-language satellite TV.

While quesadillas were selling briskly at lunchtime on Friday, Gabriela Vazquez said the Comida’s best-selling entree is a special plate that offers beans, rice, salad and a generous serving of chicken, pork or beef.

What this year’s harvest will yield remains to be seen. Last year Maine’s wild blueberry harvest tipped the scales at 83.1 million pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That was 100,000 pounds more than the 2010 crop.

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