Seven Generations of Wild Blueberry Growers
If you’re lucky enough to spend time in Maine’s Midcoast during the summer months, you may stumble across Brodis Blueberries, a family farm located in Hope, Maine. When you step onto the property, the family history and love of Maine’s native berry is palpable. We had the chance to sit down with Jeremy Howard, one of the family members that operates Brodis Blueberries, to learn more about his family farm, what he has planned for this summer, and what makes Wild Blueberries unique. Check out our conversation with him below.
Q: How long has your farm been in business?
A: My family has been commercially harvesting Maine Wild Blueberries from our 900-acre farm for 170 years. As the farm has changed hands from generation-to-generation, the name has changed a few times over. When my grandparents took it over, they renamed the farm Brodis Blueberries, and that is how it is known today. We are a seventh-generation farm and my children will be the eighth. My oldest is 13 years old and currently helps out on the farm to learn about our business. The goal is that it’ll stay in the family for generations to come.
Q: How many pounds of Wild Blueberries do you grow and harvest annually?
A: On average, we harvest about 200,000 pounds of Wild Blueberries each year. However, this can change depending on a variety of things that are out of our control like bee pollination, inclement weather, and weather catastrophes. For example, one year we had a random hailstorm the week before harvest which ended up knocking out 30% of our crop. To harvest our wild crop, we use everything from mechanical harvesters to old-fashioned hand rakes The mechanical harvesters are used for picking Wild Blueberries we send to processors; the walk-behind harvesters are used to pick berries we sell to wholesale accounts (such as wineries, vinegar producers, or ice cream clients); and berries that are harvested by hand are sold directly to consumers in packaged flats and quarts.
Q: How do you sell your fresh Wild Blueberries?
A: We typically sell fresh Wild Blueberries right from our farm stand on our family property, however this year we’re investing in something new. Due to COVID-19 and the need for more physical distancing, we are building a new 30’ by 90’ barn that will eventually be used for agritourism purposes. This idea for a new barn originally came to mind when thinking of ways to grow our agritourism business – we decided to build after thinking that this new barn, away from our family home, would also keep my 83-year-old grandmother safe and healthy in the current state. Overall, we feel that agritourism is the future of our business, so it will undoubtedly benefit us down the line.
Q: Why focus on agritourism?
A: We started offering tours last year but it’s a bit limited this year with the current health restrictions, but we hope that’ll change next year, and we’ll be able to expand our tours
with access to the new barn. We work with a company in Freeport to help us set up tours for people so they can see the farm in action, and we look forward to this part of our business every year. With our new investment, we hope to eventually have a retail space, café, and hang out area for our guests.
Q: Do you sell any other Wild Blueberry products?
A: My grandmother makes some pretty phenomenal jams that we sell at the farm – these are a best seller. Additionally, we distill our Wild Blueberries to make a type of brandy called Eau de Vie. The first year we did this we distilled 32,000 pounds of Wild Blueberries to test it out. Now, years in, we’re making gin – our lemon lavender blueberry flavoring is wonderful – as well as rum. Our distillery is called Blue Barren Distillery.
Q: What makes the Wild Blueberry industry different than other Maine industries?
A: The most enduring thing about this industry is that the berry is so unique – other types of farms have crops and hayfields, but Wild Blueberries only grow here and in parts of Eastern Canada. They’re so stunning with crimson leaves and blue berries, and such a unique blue-colored food. As one of the three berries native to North American, it’s Maine’s own berry and that’s what makes it special.
Don’t miss out on a little piece of Maine magic when you’re in the Midcoast – stop by Brodis Blueberries and taste these tangy, native Maine Wild Blueberries as soon as they’re available in August! Learn more about Brodis Blueberries by following them on social media and checking out their website.