Maine’s wild blueberries
[insects and wind]
Lily Calderwood: When you go out to the barrens…
David Yarborough: You’d see a nice, open environment that’s conducive to wildlife, such as turkeys.
Lily Calderwood: We call these glacial deposits of land that are growing so many blueberries a blueberry barren. And that name does describe the place. It looks pretty barren. It almost looks like you’re in a dry desert but you’re here in Maine.
David Yarborough: If we go in the spring, it can be fully white with flowers.
Lily Calderwood: And you’ll hear the bees just buzzing around.
David Yarborough: If we go in the fall, it can be bright red with leaves. Go in August, it can be completely blue. So, you know, looking at it over time and the differences in the fields. It’s rural, and quiet, and just a really very nice place to be.
[insects and birds]
Shannon Lion: They were small. I’m hoping. They’re looking better, but they were looking…
David Yarborough: unintelligible Really small. Yup, they were really small.
Shannon Lion: … But just loaded, Dave. The pollination, again, was just incredible.
David Yarborough: If we didn’t have that university research and that information to allow them to adapt and improve the productivity, they’d be out of business. There would be no blueberry growers.
Shannon Lion: You know, when we started, we didn’t know anything about blueberries. And it was a real learning curve. Everything we did was a learning curve. We’re just really lucky that there’s people like Dave. Like I said, if I have a question…you know I just got to know him more and more from the ICM (Integrated Crop Management) and the meetings, but then he started coming out to get fresh-packed blueberries. And we just got to know each other better, I guess.
Nancy McBrady: No other university in the United States is doing wild blueberry research other than here in Orono. So, that’s a wonderful tradition that we want to continue to build upon.
Judy Berry: It’s so pretty. People stop all the time and take pictures there. And I tell…his niece lives down next to the road. And I tell her husband, I said, “Why don’t you take a chair and go out and sit there and have a sign, “$5 a picture.”
Elmer Berry: aughs
Lily Calderwood: These growers are so…they love farming. They just love to be outside. They love to manage a crop.
Nancy McBrady: And it is a dynamic group of people. It goes back 150 years for commercial production of wild blueberries. And of course, a long history of Native American use and stewardship of the berry before that.
Judy Berry: I just enjoy being out there. I worked in an office for years and years and years. And it’s just so nice to get out there. And I just love to see how the fields have improved.
Elmer Berry: There’s a lot of good memories to it. But there’s a lot of…You never forget the hard work that went into it.
Judy Berry: I think to myself lots of times, “I wonder what my father would think if he could see the fields and the shape they’re in now?”
Zane Wallace: Since I’ve only been here two years, and they’ve both been bad. And they always say just rain makes so much of a difference. You know, like 1 inch of rain can make little berries turn into huge berries. It’s just that random, you know? You get a good year, you get a bad year, I guess. I’m just waiting for a good year cause even these bad years have been good for me. Cause I’ve gotten 200 boxes.
[berries plop in boxes and on conveyor belt]
Noella Thibeault: Oh, I’ve been coming here since 1986. I enjoy it. And I love it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t come back. I have arthritis in my hands and it keeps my hands going. Just love it. [laughs].
Shannon Lion: She knew how to the very first year. She just figured out the picking. I’ve never had a picker that…and part of it is she picks with two hands. Most people go like this. But she, and I do, pick with two hands, too.
Noella Thibeault: That’s how I started. And it’s what I’ve been doing.
[walking on ground]
Judy Berry: Now see, there’s some more of that.
Elmer Berry: It looks like you’re getting pretty good kill on this.
Judy Berry: See that? Look, look at this.
Judy Berry: See? There’s some more of that. I’m anxious to see what that is.
David Yarborough: Worldwide, weeds are the biggest problem for growing crops.
Judy Berry: Now I see some red sorrel right in that bare spot right there.
Elmer Berry: Ayuh, a little bit.
Judy Berry: Ayuh. So, we’ll have to get that.
David Yarborough: Because they compete with the plants. They adulterate the crops. They make it more difficult to harvest, and reduce yields. You can use in the fall, too, with woody weeds. If you have maples or birch, woody weeds, this is a very good way to control them.
Lily Calderwood: We look at the whole farm and develop a whole-farm IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program that involves cultural management. So, are there ways that we can manage the plant to reduce a certain insect pest or are there mechanical ways that we can start weeding a little bit differently to reduce the use of herbicides?
Theresa Gaffney: Everybody should harvest blueberry leaves. And at least have some dried in a jar in their kitchen to make a tea in the wintertime.
Lily Calderwood: Product diversification into more value-added markets is one way to add value to a farm.
Theresa Gaffney: Here we have our blueberry teas. So, we wanted to be the first to put out a real, pure blueberry tea that was made with just the fruit and the leaves. Remember, we’re just blueberry farmers. We’ve never been in the tea world so we didn’t know what to expect. And could you really make a living off making blueberry tea? And you can.
[insects, wind, raking, driving ]
Shannon Lion: It’s been frustrating because we had a really good crop out there and if we had gotten a couple inches of rain in July…We’re basically going to end up with about 130,000 pounds, but we would have probably had 250,000 pounds if we’d gotten the rain, and that’s just the nature of blueberries. They need water.
Steven Lion: Everybody’s nervous about what the future’s going to bring because it was so promising five, 10 years ago. I mean, the wild blueberry industry seemed to be heading in the right direction and then for a whole bunch of reasons, you know, we just lost our price. And now, people are dropping out like flies.
Lily Calderwood: We’re talking about this little plant that is this like this tall. And it’s growing this delicious little berry. And if we can come together around this marvel of biology, that would be really cool. And I think that’s what farmers do.
Theresa Gaffney: What we’re doing as small farmers is not only are we creating a lifestyle, we’re creating a product that is beneficial for those who are going to consume it.
Judy Berry: I enjoy it. I will miss it. I’m 84 years old. It’s not going to be much longer I can go down there and work all day. But I’ve been out there and just roam around all day and never come back for lunch.
David Yarborough: On the rhizome, new buds are formed and new shoots come up. We’re able to keep this resource, which really has taken a very long time to establish and become productive, and maintain that. I guess the biggest contribution is to allow them to be blueberry growers and not sell the land off for house lots.