Ruairi Lake and sister Saoirse gather strawberries Thursday at Bradbury Mountain Berry Farm. Berry farms are adapting to COVID-19 guidelines. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Picking your own berries at a local farm is a summer staple in Maine that spans generations: Customers go into the fields, leisurely picking strawberries to take home and probably sneaking a few bites along the way. But this year, picking your own fruit – like just about everything else – will look and feel different.

Farms will follow now-familiar COVID-19 guidelines, such as asking customers to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and avoid cash payments if possible, with a few additions specific to pick-your-own-operations.

In southern Maine, the pick-your-own season has already started; Bradbury Mountain Berry Farm in Pownal opened last week. At least one local farm has decided not to do pick-your-own strawberries this year, but David Handley, vegetable and small fruit specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, says he expects most pick-your-own strawberry farms to open for the season.

“It’s incredible. People are excited, and we’ve had huge crowds,” said Dwight Ely of Bradbury Mountain Berry Farm. “People are very courteous, and they’re staying six feet apart. It’s been delightful.”

Working off a list of best practices developed by Cornell University, Maine’s agriculture department and the extension produced their own Maine-specific guidelines for farms.

“Some of the big things we are asking for (are) for visitors to self-screen ahead of time and stay home if they are sick, maintain six feet apart like you see in the grocery store and minimize touches, so not having people using the same baskets or golf carts,” said Leah Cook, food inspection supervisor at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Bill Bamford and his son Joel, right, who own Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, will open their pick-your-own operations soon, with special pandemic restrictions. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Maine guidelines also emphasize minimizing “touches” by providing customers with single-use containers and following a first-in, first-out rotation in which customers first to arrive pick berries closest to the exit because they will likely be the first to leave. Also, customers will be assigned to pick in specific numbered rows.

Strawberries await picking at Maxwell’s Farm. Just remember to keep your social distance. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In a typical summer, many berry pickers linger at pick-your-own farms, enjoying activities like picnics, playgrounds and petting zoos. Those options will be limited this summer, Handley said. “It’s not business as usual,” he said. “It’s going to be much more rigid than people are used to. I think people who do go out to the pick-your-own farms will be rewarded, but they need to be responsible for their actions, and the farmers will help them with that.”

On its website, Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, which expects to open early next week, explains its “humble but mandatory guidelines” for the season. “Our goal as a farm in general is to provide healthy food for our customers, and this year that encompasses a lot more because we also need to provide a healthy environment to pick that food in,” Maxwell’s Farm’s Joy Bamford elaborated.

Nearby, Alewive’s Brook Farm, also in Cape Elizabeth, has canceled its pick-your-own operations this year, opting instead to pick and sell its berries itself. “We don’t have the manpower for the staff to do all the suggested guidelines,” the farm’s Caitlin Jordan explained, adding that pick-your-own “is just a small percentage of my farm operation, so I’m not too worried about it.”

Staff Writer Emma Sorkin can be reached at: [email protected]

Sarah Lapine of Pownal shows off two flats of strawberries on her way back to her car on Thursday at Bradbury Mountain Berry Farm. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


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