Keeping it wild for Wild Blueberry Weekend in Maine

DRESDEN — Joshua Dore helped his dad, Nathan Dore, 6, feed blueberries into a winnower Saturday at Fields Fields Blueberries in Dresden. His younger brother Samuel, 3, stood at the other end of the machine helping to sort their finished product, but also diverting a fair amount of the flavor-packed berries into his mouth, not the containers waiting to be filled.

Nathan Dore, left, talks to visitors Saturday about how a winnowing machine is used to clean and grade blueberries at Fields Fields Blueberry Farms in Dresden. His son Joshua Dore, 6, is seen beside him. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As part of Wild Blueberry Weekend in Maine, the owners of Slow Rise Farm in Pittston were on hand to demonstrate how fresh-picked wild blueberries are sorted, or winnowed, out of the leaves, sticks, bugs and whatever else gets picked up with them. . In their case, that means using a winnower made by Zane Emerson of Maine Blueberry Equipment Co. in Columbia Falls. Joshua Dore can help Nathan load the berries into the mechanized winnower by hand, as Samuel Dore assists Nathan’s brother Bryan pick out anything that makes it through the machine that’s not a quality blueberry. Nathan and Bryan’s mom, Tymbre, loads the finished product into pint containers, minus, of course, the ones Samuel munched on while he worked.

“It’s a good thing we have a farm,” Nathan Dore joked about Samuel’s appetite for the berries.

Ashley and Jesse Field, owners of Fields Fields, one of 14 Maine blueberry farms open to the public for Wild Blueberry Weekend, showed numerous visitors their spread Saturday, including their own apiary where they care for bees that help pollinate their crops, and their acres. of blueberry fields. They harvested early this year, in what Ashley described as emergency picking, because of the drought conditions.

Jesse Field grew up on the farm, which his parents bought in the early 1970s. His parents farmed there conventionally, as Jesse and Ashley did initially. But they converted to organic around 2000, and have been certified organic since. Blueberries grow wild in Maine’s glacial soils, and are only grown in Maine and Canada, and produce a smaller, more flavorful fruit than other, high bush, commercial varieties of blueberries.

“They’re wild, they’re here, we’re just managing them,” Jesse Field said of the wild berries while leading a tour of the farm’s fields.

Jesse Field, left, and Ashley Field lead a tour of their blueberry field Saturday at Fields Fields Blueberry Farms in Dresden. The tour was part of a Wild Blueberry Weekend event at the farm. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That management includes ensuring there are bees available to pollinate the blueberries.

Up until a couple of years ago the couple rented bees, from traveling apiarists, to pollinate their fruit, but now they have about half a million bees in nine colonies in their onsite apiary. Ashley Field said that’s only about a third of what they need. They hope to increase their number of bees by splitting their existing colonies in the spring when the population is up, and forming additional colonies.

Ashley Field, who walked barefoot while giving a tour of the farm, said it is not as healthy for the environment or the bees to have the same honey bees travel from farm to farm to pollinate fruits because the bees don’t get the proteins they need and live shorter lives. That was a big reason to start keeping their own bees, which are in a corner of one of their fields.

“We decided to take it into our own hands and start our own apiary,” she said.

They also hope the natural bee population will rebound, including bumble bees which Ashley said buzz at the same frequency that makes pollen vibrate and fall off blueberry blossoms, which makes them far superior pollinators to honey bees.

Jesse Field demonstrated using a mechanized harvesting machine, also created by Maine Blueberry’s Emerson,pushing it through one of their fields, which had only a few berries left since they’d already been picked previously.

People wait in line Saturday to get blueberry crisps or drinks during a Maine Wild Blueberry Weekend event at Fields Fields Blueberry Farms in Dresden. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He said they switched from the back-breaking hand raking to the machine about 10 years ago.

Festivities at Fields Fields farm this weekend included live music both days, sales of blueberry crisp, juice, tea, and other products, and numerous Maine vendors selling handmade goods.

Emilee Harper of Dresden sold hats and other items she embroidered herself, favoring flowers and other wildlife grown in Maine. The artist who said she’s been embroidering for four or five years said the hats with blueberries on them were made especially for the weekend event. She said she’s been by, but never stopped, the Fields’ Blinn Hill Road farm, which offers sweeping views of the Camden Hills and, on a clear day, Mount Washington.

“This is nice,” she said from her booth setup in a farm field on a sweltering Saturday. “I hope they have (Wild Blueberry Weekend) again.”

Most of the fruit crop at Fields Fields Blueberries is flash frozen, a method meant to help preserve their flavor and nutrition, within 24 hours of it being picked.


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