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The Magical Fruit!

Folks from outside of Maine may not have any idea how intricately the seasons play a role in the overall perception of the state. Lobster season, blueberry season, pothole season, hunting season, and mud season all are crucial components in the state’s economy. Well.. pothole season may be the exception! 

Writing this, we are currently at the tail end of the state’s blueberry season. Typically lasting from June to Labor Day, this is a demanding, hectic time of year, especially for the farmers. We can get into the particulars about how vital the blueberry industry has been in putting Maine on the map in a later post. Right now, it feels only right to highlight the voices of the farmers that have put in an incredible amount of work in recent days. 

Brief Overview

Maine’s signature berry has always been a symbol of resilience. The plant is incredibly hearty; it took to the rocky, nutrient-lacking soil that was left in the wake of melting glaciers. In order to purge pests and the fields after a growing season, Native Americans began burning the fields. Despite their seemingly poor growing conditions, these low-bush blueberries have continued to appear and grace the state with their presence. 

Everyone loves blueberries!

In order to aptly prepare myself to write this post, I had the opportunity to chat with a local wholesale blueberry grower. Nathaniel Birdsall of One Earth Farm, took time out of his busy schedule to give some insight on what blueberry season was like this year. 

The 2022 Blueberry Season, From a Farmer

To say it bluntly, this summer was awful for the blueberry industry. In the past five years, the summer of 2021 was the only good year for folks who cultivate the state’s berry to ripeness. Why? This is mostly due to the weather. With very little rain and not a good amount of irrigation or fertilization, the berries just won’t grow like they should. 

Nathaniel has faced a tough few years. He sells his organic berries in the wholesale market. In today’s market, berries are generally bought at wholesale for 0.70/lb. I don’t know about anyone reading this, but it’s a great day when you can purchase a half pound of berries for anything less than $5. For commercial growers, it must be incredibly discouraging to see your berries sell for a good amount of money and not see a lick of it.

To make matters a little more complicated, most fertilizers, machinery, and labor costs have all risen due to inflation. 

Competition in the Blueberry Market

Historically, Maine has dominated the blueberry market because its low-bush blueberries are wild. Not many areas of the world can boast that fact. However, competition has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. High-bush blueberries are grown around the world. Floridians have been able to replicate growing conditions and are now growing low-bush blueberries. These folks have better marketing, a bigger audience, and more resources on their side. 

The typical wild, low-bush blueberry bush found in Maine.

I asked Nathaniel what he would want the general public to know about the blueberry industry in the state of Maine. After a pause, he told me, “most wholesale growers are losing money.” 

That’s a hard thing to deal with. Most folks get into blueberries because they are a family, and state, tradition. In fact, in Downeast Maine, raking blueberries is almost a rite of passage for teenagers. Hard work, resiliency, and a good attitude are crucial to survive in the blueberry sphere. While most Mainers don’t lack in any of those things, it is certainly difficult to maintain a good attitude when so many factors are against you. 

Supporting State Agriculture

As with most of the world, Maine is experiencing a variety of economic hurdles. Whether they be weather issues, inflation, state regulations, etc. one thing remains true: Mainers are born for resiliency. In the blueberry sector, farmers need all the support they can get. For us on the outside, all we can do is continue supporting them in any way we can. 

 

Our 7-item Blueberry Sampler!

 

In our area of the world, it’s crucial to us to help support our local industries. Without them, there would be no Box of Maine! We partner with incredible, hard-working Maine folk to bring nostalgic items to your doorstep. In the case of blueberries, we are fortunate to highlight the work of several Maine vendors. With their help, we provide you guys with blueberry jams, teas, soap, and lip balm. What more could you need?!

As always, thanks for tuning in to another Maine highlight reel. We are so thankful for you all. 

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