The Rich History of Wild Blueberrying at Welch Farm in Downeast Maine
From day one, wild blueberries have held a special place in Lisa Hanscom’s heart. The Welch/Hanscom family has been stewarding their many acres of wild blueberry land situated in Roque Bluffs, Maine, since the early 1900’s. Lisa, the current owner and operator of the farm, was excited to sit down with us and share her family’s story, especially as she prepares for Wild Blueberry Weekend 2022.
A Welch Farm History Lesson
Back when Maine was still a part of Massachusetts, the Thompson family – the original owners of the land – purchased it from the state to start their farm. In 1840, the family built the antique western style barn which still stands on the property today. More than 70 years later, in 1912, Frank and Mary Welch, Lisa’s grandparents, bought the iconic Thompson Homestead to start their agricultural business.
Sadly, one year after purchasing the Homestead, the original Thompson house burned to the ground. While the Welch’s rebuilt their family home, they worked the farm and tirelessly cleared the land to plant wheat, rye and oats. They also raised 400 head of sheep and milked 40 cows by hand. Today, their land extends down to the water, and they utilize their beautiful oceanfront location to harvest wild blueberries.
Lisa’s father, Wayne, and his sister were raised on the farm by Lisa’s great-grandparents, and Wayne took over the family business at the age of 16 upon the death of his grandfather. Over time, Lisa’s father decided it would be best for the family to divest itself from the sheep and dairy business in order to focus solely on harvesting wild blueberries and helping grow one of Maine’s historical agricultural industries. Today, Lisa runs the farm’s operations, but remains close to Wayne and continues to lean on his decades of industry knowledge.
Wild Blueberry Harvesting Season and Sales
When the farm was under Wayne’s management, the family sold its berries directly to processors for frozen sales. However, when Lisa stepped into the role, she realized this business model was impacting overall profitability because payment often came after the harvest season was over. To increase the farm’s annual profits, she added the ability to sell fresh wild blueberries (aka fresh pack). Since then, selling fresh wild blueberries has been successful for the Hanscom’s – so much so that they decided to purchase a new sorting machine last year to sort and clean fresh wild blueberries more efficiently.
Every year, Welch farm harvests between 100,000-150,000 pounds of wild blueberries. On average, 12,000-18,000 pounds are sold fresh, with the remainder being sold to processors for flash freezing at the peak of ripeness. According to Lisa, berry yield has been impacted over the last few years due to weather and climate change, but she is optimistic about the 2022 season.
Evolving with the Times: Wild Blueberrying at Welch Farm Today
Over the years, Lisa has helped to diversify the family business while still holding strong to its history. She was a pioneer of the agritourism business, long before it was the high-profile trend it is today. Lisa’s start in the agritourism space began 15 years ago, when she convinced her father to build two cabins on their property, both of which are now rented to guests during the summer season. Cabin visitors experience magnificent views of the cascading wild blueberry fields, and are encouraged to pick berries for any and all of their meals – wild blueberry pancakes are a favorite! Lisa has also added field tours to the farm’s agrotourism offerings, helping to educate people about the unique differences between wild and ordinary (cultivated) blueberries. All of these experiences have helped visitors better understand Maine’s unique wild blueberry industry, and have turned many of them into lifelong customers.
“When people know the difference and can taste the difference, they will always choose to buy Maine wild blueberries,” said Lisa.
Today, Welch Farm is a top wild blueberry agritourism destination in Maine. Lisa’s mission to educate people about the wild difference has led her to become an active participant in the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, hosting busloads of folks for farm tours. Welch Farm is also participating in the second annual Wild Blueberry Weekend scheduled for August 6th and 7th. Always looking ahead, Lisa is planning to expand the farm’s fresh pack shipping capabilities so she can take website orders from all over New England during harvest season.
Ready for a Wild, Wild Blueberry Weekend
Welch Farm is excited to take part in the second annual Wild Blueberry Weekend, a weekend dedicated to celebrating wild blueberries and the hardworking farmers that have been stewarding them for generations. To celebrate, Welch Farm will offer a number of free family-friendly activities, including:
- Educational farm tours
- Local artists & photographers
- A Native American sunrise ceremony & blessing by MicMac Native Hubert Francis
- Demonstrations of old-school harvesting practices
- Storytime for children