David Popp has never seen such a plentiful strawberry crop in his more than 30 years at Popp Farm in Dresden.

“The berries are big as plums,” he said, “and that’s no exaggeration.”

But business is slow. The coronavirus pandemic was unkind to the farm, which was unable to afford a seasonal, full-time employee.

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 103 Glasheen Road, Popp Farm offers pick-your-own strawberries to fit most anyone’s schedule, but customers are not showing up. The farm moved from Popp Road three years ago and has struggled to attract large numbers of customers.

“We can’t get the people out,” Popp said. “We put on all of our advertising that we’ve moved down the road a bit, but they don’t seem to get that.”

 

Strawberries at unweeded plots Monday at Popp Farm in Dresden. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Strawberry season came early in Maine this year, one of the earliest if not the earliest seasons in recent memory. Last year’s season started late, but in 2021, Popp Farm began picking June 14, according to David Popp. The season is expected to run into the second week of July.

Strawberry season came early this year because of the weather, local farmers said. There was little spring frost, allowing the berries to grow quickly and soundly. Local farmers said the berries are the best they have seen in years.

“This year was definitely an abundance of fruits,” said Anson Biller, owner of Full Fork Farm in China. “Things obviously got started early, and felt a little more condensed in the terms of the picking window.”

Full Fork Farm has already finished its 2021 strawberry season, which ended Sunday. U-pick strawberries and wholesale strawberry picking lasted 3 1/2 weeks, a bit shorter — but more plentiful — than the farm’s previous four years of strawberry crops.

Biller said strawberry season itself is not over at other farms.

Maine is one of the best U-pick berry states, tied for seventh in a ranking by Gurney’s Seed & Nursery, a garden and plant company based in Indiana.

Maine’s ranking for strawberries alone came in fourth place, behind Delaware, Vermont and Wisconsin. Rankings were calculated based on four factors: Numbers of farms per 100,000 residents, average annual temperature, average annual precipitation and growing season in the largest city.

According to an outgoing message on Underwood Strawberry Farm’s answering machine, the farm in Benton did not reopen this season after 24 years and the owners are retiring.

Luke Sites carries strawberries through the strawberry patch Monday at Sites Farm in Athens. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

At Sites Farm in Athens, owner Luke Sites invites customers to come pick from the nearly 70,000 plants across three acres at 98 Joaquin Road from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The only exception to the hours came Monday, when the farm closed at 1 p.m. With temperatures soaring into the 90s and a blazing sun, Sites wanted to make sure pickers got out of the heat by the afternoon. Picking opportunities at the farm began the second week of June, and Sites said he expected the season to last another week, or at least until Sunday, July 4.

Sites said his strawberry business has been extremely busy, and he expects his blueberry season to also begin early — in mid-July — and do well.

Phylis Jackson, left, and daughter, Melissa, of Dover-Foxcroft pay for strawberries Monday they picked at Sites Farm in Athens. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“I’d say the demand is quite high this year (for strawberries),” Sites said. “I think people are looking for stuff to do after a year of not doing a whole lot, and getting out and picking strawberries is a great thing to do with your family as a family fun day.”

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