Joel Bamford collects strawberries as Cano Rodriguez, left, picks at Maxwell’s Farm fields in 2022. Maxwell’s has announced its plans to close after 51 years. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, file

Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, with a history that stretches to before the American Revolution and has more recently been a favorite spot for pick-your-own strawberries, is closing after 51 years.

The farm posted a statement on its website Sunday that says rising but unspecified challenges for family farms and “increasing barriers at most every turn” have made it impossible for the owners to balance their faith, family and farm. The owners said there was “no single reason” for the closing, “but instead a myriad of realities.”

“After years of painstaking consideration and attempts to adapt to the challenges of farming in the current landscape, we have come to the very hard decision to close Maxwell’s Farm,” it said. “Believe when we say we feel the weight of nine generations in this decision.”

Bill Bamford, part of the eighth-generation of the Maxwell family, did not respond to messages Sunday seeking further details about the decision.

The Maxwell family has been growing fruit and vegetables in Cape Elizabeth for centuries. It traces its roots to James Maxwell, who in 1762 paid 2 pounds, 6 shillings and 8 pence “lawful money” for 25 acres of land.

Ken Maxwell of the family’s seventh generation opened Maxwell’s Farm Market in Portland in 1973, expanding the fruit and vegetable crop offerings and planting the first strawberries for a pick-your-own business.

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Penny Jordan, a co-owner of Jordan’s Farm, a five-generation Cape Elizabeth vegetable farm, said in an interview Sunday that the news of the closing was “truly sad for me.”

“I can only imagine what it felt like to make the decision,” she said.

Farming, which is a difficult job under the best of circumstances, is particularly pressed now by rising production costs for seeds, fertilizer, fuel, water for irrigation and property taxes, Jordan said. Inflation, which peaked at 9% in June 2022, is not the culprit for rising farm costs, she said. “It’s been going on for years.”

Jordan said the season, which is still young, was “great until we lost all the strawberries to fruit fly infestation.” Jordan’s Farm halted its pick-your-own strawberry business in late June but operates a farm stand.

Fruit flies have damaged strawberry crops around Maine, forcing some growers to end their pick-your-own seasons early. Maxwell’s said the season’s abrupt closing is not connected to the farm’s shutdown but was a decision in the making for “some time.”

Timothy Reiniger, chair of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, said Sunday the closing of Maxwell’s is a “terrible loss” to the town. He said it was news to him, though he’s heard it’s “generally tougher” for small family farms due to “economic drivers and factors.”

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About 45% of land in the town includes farmland, protected private land and acreage owned by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, Reiniger said. The farms in particular, he said, “make Cape Elizabeth distinctive.”

Farms in Cape Elizabeth qualify for a state property value reduction if they choose to participate, he said.

Workers pick strawberries at Maxwell’s Farm fields in Cape Elizabeth on June 23, 2023. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, file

In 2020, a different farm owned by members of the Maxwell family was conserved in perpetuity in an agreement negotiated and funded by the Maine Farmland Trust and the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust. The deal was to prevent the land from being sold as pressures mount for residential development in an affluent seaside community.

The agreement was touted for preserving farmland at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for local sustainable food sources.

Now best known as a destination for pick-your-own strawberries, Maxwell’s opened its fields to berry pickers on June 13 with what seemed to be a promising harvest, following a disappointing season last year because of rain. However, the season came to an early end two weeks later because fruit flies had damaged the crops.

By Sunday evening, the farm’s announcement on Facebook had generated more than 200 comments lamenting the loss of the business and reminiscing about picking strawberries over the generations.

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One feature of the farm that will be missed by some customers is a “strawberry hotline” announcing when fields are open for the season. All that’s left is a June 27 recording informing callers about the devastation caused by fruit flies and the end to the 2024 season.

The farm was run by Bamford and Lois (Maxwell) Bamford, with the help of two of their four children, Joel and Joy Bamford, the ninth generation of Maxwells to farm in Cape Elizabeth, and three generations of the Rodriguez family, who have come from Puerto Rico for decades to work on the farm.

Assistant web editor Amber Carter contributed to this report.

Note: This article was updated June 8 to clarify that the Maxwell family farm preserved in 2020 did not include the strawberry farm.

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