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.

Enjoying the Androscoggin Woods Preserve with Dash

By Cora Spelke, BTLT Summer Intern

Dogs on a leash are welcome at Androscoggin Woods!

I have heard many stories about how polluted and disgusting the Androscoggin River used to be from my mom who grew up in Lewiston. Thirty years later we live in Topsham just under 20 miles southwest of Lewiston, on the very same river. While the water still has a long way to go, the river and the surrounding land can now be used for numerous recreational activities such as hiking, boating, and even swimming.

A view of the clear river.

A lot has changed for the Androscoggin River thanks to the Clean Water Act and organizations like the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT). Androscoggin Woods, one of BTLT’s properties, is 53 acres of conserved land next to and around the river. The property is easily found just off of Lewiston Road, and there is a parking lot directly next to the trail entrance and trail head. As you enter into the woods there is a well-maintained trail that is surrounded by trees, ferns, and other local flora. The trails are clearly marked and bring you along a mile long loop (River Loop Trail) that walks directly next to the river. There is also a shorter cross-cut trail that runs through the center of the loop (Woods Trail). Along the loop there are multiple different water viewpoints so that you can easily walk to the edge of the water to look at the clear, still water. At one of the viewpoints the water is covered in lily pads and is a great place to watch for wildlife.

Dash hearing an animal by the river.

When I arrived at the first viewpoint, which is one of the water access highlights on the trail map, there were two women wading in the water on the very hot July day. Thanks to the BTLT, the water by the trail will be conserved, and available for recreation like this forever. To know that this land will be protected perpetually makes me feel excited for the future of our local woods and waters. If you like to enjoy peace and quiet in the woods with the beautiful backdrop of the river, then you would love the quick easy trails that are located on the Androscoggin Woods property. I highly recommend that you find a time to come out and enjoy the trails!

Cora and Dash in front of the water access point.

Thinning Overcrowded Young White Pines at Crystal Spring Farm

By Cora Spelke (BTLT summer intern) and Steve Pelletier (certified wildlife biologist, licensed Maine forester, and member of BTLT’s Advisory Council)

If you’ve ever walked Crystal Spring Farm’s (CSF) elaborate system of trails, then you’ve had the opportunity to experience its differing forest types, including many dominated by varying mixes of white pine, red oak, and numerous other native hardwood and softwood trees. Each of these species, together and alone, provide a broad variety of important ecological landscape functions and social attributes that in turn support two of CSF’s primary management goals, i.e., healthy, diverse wildlife habitats, and active and passive recreation. In addition, each individual tree, through photosynthesis, actively sequesters and stores carbon throughout its entire system, including the woody fibers and mycorrhizae found deep within its roots. Recognition of this innate phenomena is a fundamental – and increasingly important – means of offsetting the devastating threats of global climate change.

The ability of forest stands to support natural functions is dependent on the general health and conditions of trees within a stand, and include varying factors such as species type, average height and diameter, stem density, and overhead canopy closure. In certain circumstances, tree numbers – or the stand density per unit area – will become so high that the growth rates of individual trees are stunted due to excessive competition for available sunlight, soil moisture, and growing space, thus not allowing trees to grow to their full potential. These overcrowded conditions also limit individual tree vigor which in turn contributes to poor health and increased opportunities for the spread of tree disease and insect damages within the stand.

One area on the Crystal Spring Farm trails that displays such conditions can be found at the beginning of the Blueberry Loop. As seen in the picture to the left, the sides of the trails are full of young (~12-14 years old) white pine trees all growing right next to each other. In order to increase the health of the forest and the trees, some of these young pines need to be removed to allow more growing space for the remaining trees to grow. One of the tasks undertaken by BTLT summer intern, Cora Spelke, is to head out to the CSF trails about once a week to begin thinning out these younger portions of the forest stand. The removal of individuals will specifically focus on those that are poorly formed or already displaying various signs of disease (e.g., white pine blister rust) or insect damage such as the white pine weevil. The most vigorous, healthiest young pine will be left in place with a minimum six to eight feet of spacing around each tree at this point in time. A future thinning in approximately 5 to 10 years would then further increase the spacing of trees at that time, further increasing the value and health of the forest stand. In that way, we expect to improve the ability of this stand of timber to provide quality wildlife habitat, to enhance its aesthetic appeal to recreational users, and to substantially increase the ability of the stand to help reduce our carbon footprint. These efforts are being conducted under the supervision of Steve Pelletier, a certified wildlife biologist, licensed Maine forester, and member of BTLT’s Advisory Council.

Welcome to our Summer Interns & Fellow!

Jane Olsen

Hello! My name is Jane, and I’m interning at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust for the summer of 2022. I am so excited to join this wonderful community.

I am going into my Junior Year at Bowdoin College, pursuing a dual-degree in English and Government and Legal Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies. This past semester I wrote a column for The Bowdoin Orient called A Moment in Maine. After months of exploring the natural beauty around campus, I have come to admire all of the work that the Land Trust does to support this community and am so excited to be a part of this team.

I am from New York City and have always been passionate about strengthening community ties and am looking forward to bringing this passion for community support to my work this summer in Maine. Despite my urban upbringing, I have always loved spending time in nature. Since coming to Bowdoin, I have enjoyed bike rides around campus and venturing out for longer hikes.

This summer, I will be assisting with projects at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, primarily supporting the work of the Common Good Garden and the New Mainers garden. I will also be cultivating a plot of my own! I am excited to get to know the plot holders, volunteers and all of the other friends of the Land Trust. Along these lines, I will be compiling a series of profiles of the plot holders to highlight the wonderful people at the garden.

I am thrilled to be working with the Land Trust this summer and looking forward to seeing you all in the Community Garden, at the BTLT Farmers’ Market, or out on the trails!

Cora Spelke

Hello BTLT community! My name is Cora Spelke and I am interning at the Land Trust for the 2022 summer. I am super excited to work with such an incredible group of people that does such amazing work for our community.

I am a rising sophomore at Amherst College in Massachussetts, but I grew up in Topsham and graduated from Mt. Ararat in 2021. I am undecided on my major but I am planning on majoring in math and am also interested in statistics, computer science, and environmental studies. Growing up in this area I was lucky to have so many great trails and outdoor opportunities close by, and I am excited to help the BTLT continue their amazing work.

This summer I will be doing a mix of office work and outdoor work. Outside, I will be helping Jane in the community gardens as well as various outdoor projects on the trails. Inside I will be helping with reaccreditation, learning about non-profits and any other help that is needed around the office.

I look forward to this summer and working with the entire BTLT community!

Megan Leach

Megan Leach is a graduate student at the University of Maine, Orono. She’s a student in the Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology (WFCB) department and a trainee in the University of Maine’s National Research Traineeship (NRT) program in Conservation Science, funded by the National Science Foundation. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Botany option from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, as well as a masters in Ecology and Environmental Science from the University of Maine, Orono. During her masters, Megan studied pollinator behavior and conservation practices. She then went on to teach high school science in Jackman, Maine and work as a curriculum coordinator for the educational non-profit Rural Aspirations. She decided to go back to school to learn how to combine her experience in biophysical research and education for conservation, which led her to her current position in WFCB and the Conservation NRT at the University of Maine.

Her research focuses broadly on human dimensions of natural resource conservation and applying social science theories to resource management issues. Her research focuses on Maine’s vernal pool conservation efforts and the Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan (VP SAMP). She is working to understand the challenges and opportunities this conservation tool provides for municipalities and conservation organizations and develop tools that make it easier to adopt and apply. She is working with Brunswick-Topsham Land trust to understand how the VP SAMP conservation criteria will affect vernal pool conservation in the town of Topsham and learn more about private landowner perceptions in the community.