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A Symbol of Maine’s Agricultural Heritage: Harvesting the Wild Blueberry Crop
Wild Blueberries grow naturally on over 200,000 acres of fields and barrens that stretch from Quebec to Eastern Canada to Downeast Maine. On an average year the Wild Blueberry crop is usually around 223 million pounds.
Wild Blueberries are harvested commercially only in Maine and Canada. Many of today’s independent, family-owned growers have been in the Wild Blueberry business for generations.
Naturally suited to acidic, low-fertility soils and challenging winters, Wild Blueberries are a low-input crop requiring minimal management. The berries are grown on a two-year cycle. Each year, half of a grower’s land is managed to encourage vegetative growth and the other half is prepared for harvest.
We recently visited Wyman’s of Maine in Washington County to experience the Wild Blueberry crop at peak harvest. Founded by Jasper Wyman in 1874, Jasper Wyman & Son is one of the largest family-owned Wild Blueberry growers and processors. The company is based in Maine, where it manages more than 10,000 acres of Wild Blueberry barrens as well as the fields of other Wyman growers from Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Across the road from Wyman’s manufacturing plant in Cherryfield, Maine one can see 1200 acres of Wild Blueberry barrens. Drive a couple miles down the road, and there are thousands more.
Hand vs. Mechanical Raking
Many small to midsize Wild Blueberry farmers still hand pick the rockier rougher ground and use mechanical harvesters on the more even land. A mechanical harvester is usually operated by two people, a driver and a person to handle the boxes of berries on the rear-loading platform, and goes about .8 mph. According to the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension Blueberry Specialist, David Yarborough, these machines have been proven to reduce the harvesting costs as much as 50% and are more efficient than hand raking for product recovery. For more information on blueberry harvesting equipment go to the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension site.
Whether hand raked or machine harvested, Wild Blueberries are sorted, cleaned and processed within hours of being picked, using state-of-the-art technology to preserve their flavor, quality and powerful antioxidant properties, which are in the deep-blue pigments of the berry’s skin.
Wyman’s receives fresh fruit from the barrens and third party growers on a daily basis during harvest season. Within 24 hours of arrival, the fruit is frozen (when their flavor and antioxidant goodness are at their peak).
At the end of harvest, by early September, the leaves on the Wild Blueberry plants will have reddened up providing an extraordinary palette of colors. For nature lovers, the Wild Blueberry barrens become an unforgettable vision.
Add Frozen Wild Blueberries to your favorite recipes – right out of the freezer! They’re frozen fresh at harvest, so they keep their great taste and healthy attributes. In fact, the FDA has concluded that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh and may even retain their nutritional value longer!