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The blueberry fileds turn bright red a few weeks following the harvest. Washington County, Maine contributes 90 percent of the state's blueberry production.
A Short Account of the Blueberry Industry
in St. David

BY TOM MOFFATT

THE US CIVIL WAR & BLUEBERRIES
Before the US Civil War, nearby Washington County, ME was the heart of a major sardine canning industry. Despite being a bastion of anti-slavery, one major market for these cans of sardine herring from Eastport and Lubec was Virginia and other southern states. They fed the canned sardines to the black slaves. In part it was cheap good food, and in part it was because they could eat them cold in the fields, instead of returning to eat a cooked meal at home. It was 'time efficient'.

With the start of the Civil War in 1861 this market dried up. But increasingly there was a need for fruit to fight scurvy among the Union troops. Washington County's canners began canning the blueberries so common on the more barren or fire-ravaged hills in Washington County. This industry thrived on the war, and men from Minnesota to New York and New England gained a taste for these canned blueberries.

AFTER THE CIVIL WAR
Following the peace in 1865 the soldiers returned home, but still had a taste for those canned blueberries from Maine they had come to like in the War. The industry grew, and before long this industry had spread to both Charlotte County, New Brunswick and to Nova Scotia.

In St. David Parish blueberry fields were in production by the 1880s, and it was a good sized industry by 1900. It continued to be a modest crop throughout the century.

DEVELOPMENT IN ST. DAVID PARISH
Just after WW 2 a blueberry research station was created to help the industry, located in St. David Parish in Upper Tower Hill, on the Cape Ann Grant lot O 6, at the 'elbow' of the Upper Tower Hill Road.

BURNING BLUEBERRIES
Interesting skills were required to farm blueberries. The fields were burned 'by hand' every two years, usually in the late Spring. A group of neighbours would get together, and spend several days going from field to field.

There was always a 'BURN BOSS' who was in charge of the burn. This was an individual who usually had an uncanny ability to read the fire. Given any particular circumstances of wind, moisture, time of the Spring, time of the day, he could predict and control where the back burns should be, and the men placed.

Even more importantly, he could predict how the flames themselves would change the swirling breezes and updrafts, and would allow for it. This was a skill.

In the late 1970s I took part in these burning 'bees' for several years on upper St. David Ridge. They included Donny Hyslop, Arnold Ames, George Tuddenham, and some others. George Tuddenham was always in charge of the burns, and he had that ability to know what they fire would do before it did it.

Not everyone was as good as George Tuddenham. In the Spring of 1979 some burned their blueberries on the wrong day. Gusty winds arose, and in Charlotte County three major roaring forest fires threatened houses, forests and fields. One was near Rollingdam, one on Little Ridge, and the third was on Upper St. David Ridge, near the Tower Hill Road. Everyone pitched in for two days to get the fires under control.

RAKING BLUEBERRIES
For the finest unblemished berries, hand picking is wonderful. However, it is no way to run an industry, and throughout the 20th century the blueberry harvest was based on carefully soldered multi-toothed blueberry rakes.

It was, and still is, backbreaking work in August. Still most harvesting is by hand up and down string-lined rows, and many teenagers and women come to do this. Some Indians come south for this harvest as well, but most go to Washington County, ME instead of St. David Parish.

For years these blueberries were cleaned by home-made 'air-draft' machines that most blueberry farmers made themselves. The blueberries were in reasonably good shape afterwards, and a modest amount of hand cleaning would remove the extra stems and leaves.

MARKETING
In St. David, for many years most growers sold to dealers like Ward McCann and Jasper Wyman. Now it is somewhat more divided among many producers. Growers like the Hawkins family in Pennfield own considerable blueberry lands in St. David Parish now.

Where do the blueberries go? All over North America, and there is a considerable market in Japan as well. Plus residents usually stuff their freezers full of the berries.

Some of the properties grow totally organic blueberries, for local markets and their own consumption. But there is considerable spraying of the truly commercial fields. The scale of spraying has dropped somewhat due to better pinpointing of problems and trying to save costs.

If anyone asks, I will try to put up a general map of blueberry lands in St. David Parish.

jwmunro, Greg1949, Charo, jean11-3, pboehringer, bostankorkulugu, zmey, Benedict has marked this note useful

Photo Information
  • Copyright: Tom O'Donnell (gunbud) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 5926 W: 8 N: 8034] (34066)
  • Genre: Places
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2007-09-10
  • Categories: Nature
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2007-09-19 15:02
  • Favorites: 1 [view]
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