By Lydia Coburn, BTLT Communications Coordinator
The morning of Friday August 5th I headed out to Crystal Spring Farm to witness something truly exceptional.
As I walked through the forested trails, the trees provided great shade on one of these hot summer days we’ve had so many of. I rounded the corner, to what opens up to the blueberry barrens. It doesn’t look like much, but I knew it held a deep history, unique ecology, and great potential for giving.
What I stood upon was a Sandplain Grassland – a natural ecological community ranked as “critically imperiled” by the Maine Natural Areas Program. The 21 sandy acres that are part of Crystal Spring Farm were deposited by rivers of glacial meltwater about 13,000 years ago, and are superb for the growth of low-bush blueberries, among other unique plant species. Since conserving the blueberry barren, BTLT has conducted two controlled burns to support the grassland vegetation and rare species that depend on this imperiled habitat. The most recent burn in spring 2021 on 14 acres of the blueberry barren proved to be extremely beneficial, as the wild blueberries are thriving this season!
Even before I truly entered the barren, I could see multiple families crouched over with containers in their hands, and smiles on their faces. Both families remarked at just how abundant the fields were this season! But the true reason for my visit was a bit further past the “no blueberry picking beyond this point” sign. Lured by the sounds of a tractor, I made my way over to Seth Kroeck of Maquoit Wild Blueberries/Crystal Spring Farm and BTLT summer intern Cora Spelke who were hard at work harvesting crate after crate of blueberries.
During one of his daily walks earlier this summer, Seth, who leases the land abutting Crystal Spring Farm for organic commercial blueberry production, noticed that the blueberries that had been recently burned were looking good – really good. Blueberries (and fruit) are far less frequently donated to food banks and folks who are food insecure because of their short shelf life, high commercial value that many farmers depend on, and the fees that come with processing and freezing fruit to preserve it. While looking at the bumper blueberry crop at Crystal Spring Farm however, Seth saw an opportunity to bring together organizations to harvest and donate blueberries from just a small portion of the barrens at Crystal Spring Farm while still leaving plenty of the delicious berries for wildlife and the community for u-pick.
Due to the impressive bounty of berries this season, Seth’s objective was to mechanically harvest as many pounds as they could by mid-day from 3.5 acres that were set aside by BTLT for donation. By the time I arrived, they had been out there for an hour or so, and already had quite a few crates filled with blueberries. Seth predicted they’d harvest at least 2,000 pounds by the end of the day. Once harvested, the crates would be packed up and sent to a hub in Union, Maine where they would be consolidated. Next, off to be processed and frozen in Ellsworth, via Merrill Blueberries. After their long journey, these blueberries will be donated to families and individuals experiencing food insecurity through Good Shepherd and Preble Street as well as to Indigenous communities throughout Maine.
It was quite a sight to see – just a few folks, one tractor, and acres of hilly-landscape with the potential to feed. The very next day, I received an email from Seth informing me that they completed the task around 4:00 pm, with a whopping 4,655 pounds harvested! It’s an amazing cycle to ponder, from the burn, to new growth, to prosperity, to sharing. What an incredible natural landscape we have the honor of tending to and caring for, and the land returns the favor ten-fold.