David Cobb of Brunswick fills an empty water bottle with wild blueberries on Monday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

The Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s wild blueberry barrens at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick are open to the public for picking.

At first glance the blueberry field doesn’t look like much 一 low, scratchy bushes clumped together in a sea of green. But, a closer look reveals tiny, deep indigo berries that are ripe for those willing to work for them.

The land trust owns and operates all 100 acres of the blueberry barren at Crystal Spring Farm, but only 20 acres are open to public picking, according to Brunswick Topsham Land Trust Executive Director Angela Twitchell. The other 80 acres is leased by Seth Kroeck, who sells the blueberries he harvests.

Twitchell said the land trust allows the public to pick their own berries from its portion of the barrens for free as “a service to the community.”

“This is the way we offer the public a way to connect with nature and the land,” said Twitchell. “We don’t do a harvest of the blueberries, we just open them to the public. It’s not a commercial crop for us.”

The land trust was founded in 1985 and has since conserved about 3,100 acres of land in Brunswick, Topsham and Bowdoin, and gained roughly 1,100 members in the process.

The nonprofit’s blueberry barrens are a sandplain grassland — an ideal habitat for low-bush blueberries that grows naturally. The sandplain grassland is full of sand and gravel that was deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age created soil that does not hold water well and contains few nutrients, but the low-lying wild blueberry bushes thrive in the rough, inhospitable terrain.

On top of not gaining any financial benefits from the naturally growing field, Twitchell said maintaining the bushes is a labor of love. The bushes grow and blossom in a two-year cycle. To keep the fields viable each year, both Twitchell and Kroeck said they choose to split their portions of the barren in half. Each summer, they burn one one-half section, then that section spends the next two years re-growing. Because they alternate which side gets burned, each year Twitchell and Kroneck have one half of the field ready to harvest.

Sarah Gay of Wiscasset and her daughter, Macen Gay, 5, fill their hands with as many wild blueberries as they can hold while eating a few at they work. The pair visited the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s public blueberry field for the first time Monday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

According to the state, over 98% of the nation’s low bush wild blueberries come from Maine, and the fruit has become one of Maine’s largest exports alongside lobster and potatoes.

Last year, 20,700 acres of blueberries were harvested across the state, totaling about 47 million pounds of blueberries, bringing in $0.82 per pound to farmers, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2019, just shy of 78 million pounds of Maine blueberries were harvested from 20,500 acres, earning farmers $1.19 per pound.

Sarah Gay of Wiscasset and her daughter, Macen, 5, hiked to the blueberry field for the first time Monday after being told about the blueberries from a friend. Sarah Gay said she enjoyed picking wild Maine blueberries for the first time in “too long.”

“Everything is expensive, so it’s nice to find a place where you can come and pick them for free,” said Sarah Gay.

David Cobb of Brunswick said he’s familiar with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s hiking trails, but has never come to the blueberry fields before. Cobb said he moved to Brunswick from Portland less than two years ago and relishes in Brunswick’s natural resources that outweigh those in Portland.

“It’s amazing to have this nearby,” he said on Monday, holding a water bottle brimming with the state’s official fruit. “Brunswick has so many natural resources, and we’re very lucky to have this. And having it available for free? You can’t beat that.”

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills declared Aug. 7-8 as Maine’s first annual Wild Blueberry Weekend to celebrate the crop. Events including tastings and chances to pick your own blueberries will take place at 15 wild blueberry farms in Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Piscataquis and Washington counties.

“I am proud to declare the first annual Wild Blueberry Weekend in Maine to honor the importance of Maine’s wild blueberries and the hardworking Maine people who grow and bring them to market,” said Mills. “I encourage everyone to visit one of the participating wild blueberry farms or to sample Maine-grown wild blueberry products at the many restaurants, inns, breweries, wineries, ice cream shops, and distilleries selling them during Wild Blueberry Weekend.”


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