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4,600+ Pounds of Blueberries Harvested to be Donated to Good Shepherd, Preble Street, and Indigenous communities throughout Maine

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. 

These fields have existed for thousands of years, with the blueberry plants living deep beneath the ground, sending shoots up to the surface each summer.

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! 

BTLT summer intern Cora Spelke and and Seth Kroeck of Maquoit Wild Blueberries/Crystal Spring Farm.

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. 

Working in 60 inch passes, the tractor grazes along the wild landscape harvesting blueberries.The organic average for harvesting is about 1,000 pounds per acre.

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.

Each crate weighs about 22 pounds – during the consolidation process, about 13-15% of that weight is lost due to finding smashed berries, sticks, leaves, etc.

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. 

The different shades, sizes, and flavors of berries are different variations of the plant being expressed in slightly different ways.

A Berry Exciting Time of Year…

It’s once again blueberry season at Crystal Spring Farm. A portion of the farm on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road consists of a rare natural community of plants known as a sandplain grassland, which is ideal habitat for low-bush blueberries. It’s July, so the blueberries in the barren are ripening now!  

Please note that the Land Trust only owns a small section of the barren. The much larger adjacent property is leased and managed by Seth Kroeck, Crystal Spring’s farm manager, for the commercial sale of organic blueberries. Please do not pick beyond the Land Trust’s clearly marked property boundary. See photo below.

Kroeck described his growing process for us. “Growing blueberries is a two-year cycle. We prune the plants, either by mowing or burning, the spring after the harvest. The next year they regrow and it is on this new growth that they make flowers and then fruit. By dividing the field in two, each season we have one section of plants in regeneration and one ready to harvest.”  

BTLT undertakes a similar management practice, and last spring half of the section open to the public was burned to promote healthy growth of this unique habitat. As a result, it’s looking like there will be a bumper crop of blueberries on the 14 acres that were burned last year!

As a result, this year you will also see that roughly 3.5 acres of the Crystal Spring Farm barrens south of the Blueberry Loop are roped off. Seth Kroeck and the Land Trust are working together to harvest, process, and donate blueberries from this area to folks in our community, so please observe the signs and do not pick in this area. Stay tuned for more information and updates about this later this summer!

The boundary line is marked with metal stakes and signs, and the lone trees in the middle of the field mark part of the boundary. 

Kroeck also noted that “Bees for pollination are rented from Swan’s Honey in Albion. We truck them back and forth, loading in the evenings when the colonies are inside the hives. It takes 30 to 40 hives to pollinate this crop.” There are also a few ‘resident hives’ on the northside of Pleasant Hill Road that help to pollinate the blueberries when they are in flower.  

Mowing, bringing in hives to pollinate, harvesting, and processing are all labor and capital intensive for Kroeck and Crystal Spring Community Farm. But, blueberries have become one of the farms’ most important crops, and can be found in natural food and grocery stores up and down the coast. This significant investment is also why we ask the community to be mindful of only picking in the areas BTLT has set aside for public gathering. 

The massive “barren” at Crystal Spring doesn’t just produce blueberries, though. The area is a rare natural community home to sedges, birds, reptiles, and butterflies that depend on sandy soils and full sunlight to thrive. Once common along the northeastern coast, development and changing land uses have all but eliminated this unique biome, and the Maine Natural Areas Program lists it as “critically imperiled.” The unique habitat is a product of geologic history and human actions. The sand and gravel deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age provides a level, well-drained base that acidic plants love. Both Native Americans and European settlers used fire deliberately as a way to maintain the area as grassland and promote blueberry production. 

In 2019, BTLT hosted a “bioblitz” at the property to help catalog the many species that call this place home. The recent prescribed burn of the blueberry barrens will help ensure this unique habitat is sustained, and BTLT will carefully monitor the recovery and the species that it has impacted. This year Grasshopper Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlark have been observed in the barren as well as rare sedge, all which are threatened or critically imperiled species that rely on this natural community.

Our blueberry barren is located south of Pleasant Hill Road. To access it, you can park at the Crystal Spring Farm trail parking area and take the East Trail.  Where the East Trail intersects the Blueberry Loop, take a right toward the field and you’ll find blueberries! 

As you enjoy the blueberries and engage in this wonderful rite of summer, please respect a few important rules: 

  • Stay on our property: The map above shows the location of our property boundary. These maps are posted at primary entrances to our property.
  • Park responsibly: While we prefer that people use the parking area described above and walk to the barren, it is also possible to park along Pleasant Hill Road near the gate approximately 0.75 mile from Maine Street. If you park on Pleasant Hill Road: 
  • DO NOT BLOCK THE FARM ROAD OR GATE! The road must be accessible to farm and fire equipment at all times. 
  • Park only on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road (the side the blueberries are on). With cars parked on both sides of the road, pedestrians crossing, runners and bikers, and farm equipment all converging – it makes for a very unsafe situation. 
  • Have fun! And share your best blueberry recipes with us! 

If you have questions, give us a call at 729-7694. Happy picking! 

It’s Blueberry Season!

It’s once again blueberry season at Crystal Spring Farm. A portion of the farm on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road consists of a rare natural community of plants known as a sandplain grassland, which is ideal habitat for low-bush blueberries. It’s July, so the blueberries in the barren are ripening now!  

Please note that the Land Trust only owns a small section of the barren. The much larger adjacent property is leased and managed by Seth Kroeck, Crystal Spring’s farm manager, for the commercial sale of organic blueberries. Please do not pick beyond the Land Trust’s clearly marked property boundary. 

Kroeck described his growing process for us. “Growing blueberries is a two-year cycle. We prune the plants, either by mowing or burning, the spring after the harvest. The next year they regrow and it is on this new growth that they make flowers and then fruit. By dividing the field in two, each season we have one section of plants in regeneration and one ready to harvest.”  

BTLT undertakes a similar management practice, and this spring half of the section open to the public was burned to promote healthy growth of this unique habitat. Because of this, there will only be berries in the western section this year. 

  • . The boundary line is marked with metal stakes and signs, and the lone trees in the middle of the field mark part of the boundary. 

Kroeck also noted that “Bees for pollination are rented from Swan’s Honey in Albion. We truck them back and forth, loading in the evenings when the colonies are inside the hives. It takes 30 to 40 hives to pollinate this crop.” There are also a few ‘resident hives’ on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road that help to pollinate the blueberries when they are in flower.  

Mowing, bringing in hives to pollinate, harvesting, and processing are all labor and capital intensive for Kroeck and Crystal Spring Community Farm. But, blueberries have become one of the farms’ most important crops, and can be found in natural food and grocery stores up and down the coast. This significant investment is also why we ask the community to be mindful of only picking in the areas BTLT has set aside for public gathering. 

The massive “barren” at Crystal Spring doesn’t just produce blueberries, though. The area is a rare natural community home to sedges, birds, reptiles, and butterflies that depend on sandy soils and full sunlight to thrive. Once common along the northeastern coast, development and changing land uses have all but eliminated this unique biome, and the Maine Natural Areas Program lists it as “critically imperiled.” The unique habitat is a product of geologic history and human actions. The sand and gravel deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age provides a level, well-drained base that acidic plants love. Both Native Americans and European settlers used fire deliberately as a way to maintain the area as grassland and promote blueberry production. 

In 2019, BTLT hosted a “bioblitz” at the property to help catalog the many species that call this place home. The recent prescribed burn of the blueberry barrens will help ensure this unique habitat is sustained, and BTLT will carefully monitor the recovery and the species that it has impacted. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the prescribed burn and this rare natural community, join the Land Trust’s Stewardship Manager, Margaret Gerber, on July 27th at 5:30 PM. She’ll take you through the process of planning on the ground for a prescribed burn and what the Land Trust hoped to accomplish by burning 14 acres of the barren in April, as well as any other questions you have around land management. To learn more about the event and register, you can click here. 

If you can’t make the walk but would like to visit the blueberry barrens, 

  • now is a great time of year to do so while the blueberries are ripe for the picking. We also recently installed interpretive signage at the farm that helps describe this unique community.  

Our blueberry barren is located south of Pleasant Hill Road. To access it, you can park at the Crystal Spring Farm trail parking area and take the East Trail.  Where the East Trail intersects the Blueberry Loop, take a right toward the field and you’ll find blueberries! 

As you enjoy the blueberries and engage in this wonderful rite of summer, please respect a few important rules: 

  • Stay on our property: The map at the end of this post shows the location of our property boundary. These maps are posted at primary entrances to our property.
  • Park responsibly: While we prefer that people use the parking area described above and walk to the barren, it is also possible to park along Pleasant Hill Road near the gate approximately 0.75 mile from Maine Street. If you park on Pleasant Hill Road: 
  • DO NOT BLOCK THE FARM ROAD OR GATE! The road must be accessible to farm and fire equipment at all times. 
  • Park only on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road (the side the blueberries are on). With cars parked on both sides of the road, pedestrians crossing, runners and bikers, and farm equipment all converging – it makes for a very unsafe situation. 
  • Have fun! And share your best blueberry recipes with us! 

If you have questions, give us a call at 729-7694. Happy picking!