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Preserving Tradition and Nurturing Generations: The Story of Brodis Blueberries in Maine

Nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes of Central and Downeast Maine, where the salty ocean breeze mingles with the sweet scent of wild blueberries, lies Brodis Blueberries, a ninth-generation, family-owned wild blueberry farm that’s rooted their legacy in stewarding the iconic crop for just over two centuries. Ron Howard, one of the farm’s main caretakers, resides on the property with his wife, Sonja, as well as varying family members who play a large role in yearly harvesting and farm operations.

Brodis Farm Family Heritage

Brodis Blueberries, once a cluster of thirteen small farms located in Hope, Maine, is today 170 consolidated acres specializing in Maine’s wild blueberries. Ron joined the seventh generation of the Brodis family 47 years ago, and since then has had the pleasure of assisting with this wild venture and all that it entails. For 30 years, Ron and his wife worked in careers outside of farming, but after the passing of his father-in-law seven years ago, they found themselves returning to their farm roots. At that time, Ron took charge of the field operations, learning and working alongside his mother-in-law and farm owner, Gwen Brodis. Today, the Howards are joined by Sonja’s sister, their son, daughter, niece and nephew – the eighth generation – and their grandchildren and cousins – the ninth generation – all of whom work tirelessly to ensure the farm’s success, “because here at Brodis Blueberries, it’s all hands on deck year-round,” notes Ron.

“Last year, in 2023, for the three weeks or so that we were open, we had 15 different family members actively working the farm,” Ron explained. “The roles range from harvesting and packing to sales. There were four generations working side by side which is not only very special, but in our case, essential for getting the job done in such a short window of time. We’re very, very, very fortunate,” he concluded.

Nurturing the Next Generation and Beyond

Ron and his family have a deep sense of pride in the farm and all the history it holds, and they hope to keep it running successfully for the next generation. Ron’s goal is to better the farm’s operations and create a sustainable business model that will support future generations for years to come. Having been raised on an agricultural farm in his youth, Ron recognizes the challenges of relying solely on wild blueberry farming for a livelihood. He has diversified his business model, opening a farm store that sells jams, sauces and pies year-round to ensure the farm’s longevity.

New *Wild* Business Ventures for the Whole Family

While a lot of the family is hands-on only during harvest season, there’s still a handful of family members who remain highly involved during the off-season. Ron’s son, Jeremy Howard, is one of them. Five years ago, Jeremy and a friend started Blue Barren Distillery & Restaurant, and began crafting spirits from the farm’s wild blueberries. 

According to Ron, “The very first product was a 100% wild blueberry non-barrel aged brandy. Since then, they’ve created a number of new products including a few wild blueberry spirits, and a myrteau that tastes similar to a port – but it’s wild blueberry. Those are their core product offerings which link them back to the farm. What Jeremy and his friend are doing also helps to tell the story of the wild blueberry and of our farm, for us and for them.”

Ron’s mother-in-law, Gwen Brodis, is also active year-round, handcrafting all of the farm’s flavorful wild blueberry jams. Ron’s wife also bakes the delicious pies, desserts and sauces that are served at their son’s Blue Barren restaurant, located on the harbor in Camden, Maine.

Harvest Season and Sales

Spanning 170 total acres, Brodis Blueberries’ annual harvest yield can vary – from 100,000 to 200,000 pounds. The size of the crop depends on the state’s weather conditions and fragile pollination process. While a significant portion of the harvest is sold to Wyman’s of Maine for wholesale freezing, the farm actively seeks alternative sales channels to diversify their income. 

These channels include partnerships with sparkling wild blueberry wine producers, vinegar makers, distilleries, and local kitchens and bakeries. By expanding its customer base and freezing a portion of the farm’s harvest, Brodis Blueberries ensures year-round availability of its  berries and supports the creation of local Maine value-added products.

Brodis Blueberries has established quite the name for themselves in recent years, especially as a family-managed business. They were named the 2023 Maine and New England Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business of the Year, by the Small Business Administration, due to their “incredible history of the business, and the significant efforts to ensure the continued success of the business.” A family business is defined as one in which one owner either shares ownership or works in the business with at least one other family member (contemporaneously or over time) and has a commitment to the continuation of the enterprise. All family-owned businesses in Maine were eligible for consideration.

A Wild Blueberry Lesson & Farm Goals

Beyond their exceptional taste and nutritional value, wild blueberries carry a remarkable story – one that Ron shares with anyone and everyone who is willing to listen. He is committed to spreading the special message of what Maine wild blueberries are all about. 

“I think for me, the most important thing is to just get more people out on the farm, to get them to experience the barrens and the berries,” Ron explained. “When they can see and taste the difference for themselves, that’s what converts them to a wild blueberry lover. That’s what we need to do for the future of the industry, to make sure people understand and appreciate Maine’s wild blueberries.”

“These wild fruits exist where nature intended them to be, and have been growing in the Maine landscape since the end of the ice age. With hundreds of genetically unique plants thriving together, wild blueberries exemplify nature’s ability to adapt and coexist harmoniously,” noted  Ron.

“They’re magnificent,” Ron exclaimed. “There may be a hundred different plants in a field, and every one of those blueberries is a little bit different in color and a little bit different in taste – almost like snowflakes, every single one is a little bit different and unique in its own way. So when you eat wild blueberries, you know you’re getting that abundance of variety.”

Brodis Blueberries Celebrates Wild Blueberry Weekend

One way the family is helping to spread the wild message is through Maine’s annual Wild Blueberry Weekend – now in its fourth year –- which is dedicated to celebrating all the goodness these little blue gems have to offer. 

The event is set for the weekend of August 3 – 4, 2024, and will take place across the state at a variety of wild blueberry farms, breweries, restaurants, and more. Brodis Blueberries has a great weekend planned for visitors to the farm, full of fun family-oriented activities, food trucks, local vendors and even a hike through the property with breathtaking views. Here’s what you’ll find at Brodis Blueberries for the third annual Wild Blueberry Weekend:

  • Wild blueberries for purchase (fresh or frozen)
  • Food trucks 
  • Value-added wild blueberry products 
  • Live music 
  • Hikes through the property
  • Storytime for kids – Blueberries for Sal

To learn more about Brodis Blueberries and the Maine wild blueberry industry, make sure to pay them a visit on Wild Blueberry Weekend.

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