Harvesting blueberries in Hope with Brodis and Howard families

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 8:00pm

HOPE— The Howard and Brodis families have been growing wild blueberries on approximately 160 acres of their 900 acre property in Hope for more than six generations, said Field Manager Ron Howard, noting that despite the different last names, the two families are actually one extended family. While Ron supervises the field crew, his son, Jeremy, is at the helm of the nearby Brodis Blueberries processing and retail operation.

Howard explained that the property and farm are owned by his mother-in-law, Gwen Brodis, who along with her late husband Dick created built, developed, and cared for the farm.

“The were really responsible for making the farm what it is today,” he said.

For the past decade, the blueberry crop was sold through a distributor; however, with prices for the prized Maine berry falling in recent years, the family decided to reclaim the harvest themselves. A minimum of 25,000 pounds of berries will be hand-raked and sold directly to consumers, and the additional harvest, estimated at a minimum of 150,000 pounds by Jeremy Howard, will be mechanically harvested and sold through a distributor.

On a Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of the harvest, which the Howards said would likely be wrapping up by August 12, about eight members of the extended family worked diligently to process the fresh fruit, working with a winnowing machine.

After the berries are cleaned and separated by the machine, they are hand-sorted as they travel down a conveyer belt, assuring that the berries sold to consumers are of the highest quality, Jeremy Howard explained.

In the front of the building, at 367 Buzzell Hill Rd. in Hope, a small retail operation was running simultaneously with customers popping in to purchase blueberries directly from the source. Brodis Blueberries is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily until approximately August 12. Customers can also call ahead to order at (207) 975-2367.

The freshly harvested berries are available in three sizes: quarts for $7, five-pound boxes for $18, and 10-pound boxes for $30. Five-pound boxes of frozen berries are also available for $20. Another tasty treat on offer at Brodis Blueberries is jam produced from a family recipe.

"It's pretty well-known jam," Jeremy Howard said.

He added that blueberries from their farm will also be available at Guini Ridge Farm in Rockport.

Just a couple miles away, a private road climbs through breathtaking fields, and after a short drive, a bustling operation proceeds in a hayfield, where boxed blueberries await their final destinations. The elder Howard plans to spend the ensuing weeks working from about 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. supervising the harvest. Four large, specially equipped John Deere tractors rumble through the fields.

Ron Howard said that the mechanical harvesting is done by a company, while the berries that are sold direct-to-consumer are raked by hand.

Ron explains that wild blueberries must have acidic soil to grow, and describes the process required to keep the fields healthy for a crop that grows every other year. He added that the process of maintaining correct soil for blueberry fields is, "almost the opposite" of hay fields. These soil conditions have an additional benefit: the acidity is less attractive to most weeds. Some of the fields will be burned every other year, some will be mowed. It is clear that Ron is keenly attuned to his family's land.

Once the harvest has ended, the machinery will continue north. First to harvest in Hancock County, and on to Washington County after that. Ron explained that the blueberries ripen later in the northern parts of Maine.


Jenna Lookner can be reached at jlooknercopy@gmail.com