Though the weather has not allowed us much possibility for engaging in typical winter activities, we’ve taken advantage of small glimmers of seasonal fun based upon the conditions at hand. Belly sliding, boot skating, and rolling massive snowballs into snow chairs, nests, and fortresses have been some of our favorite things to do as of late. We’ve also enjoyed some longer hikes around campus as a whole school group, which helps us to take notice of what’s happening in nature while getting a solid workout.
After some recent reading and research (in books and on the internet) about the transition from family farms to commercial farming operations in the early 1900’s, we realized that getting information right from the source in the old fashioned way (a.k.a. talking to people) can be an incredibly refreshing and useful tool. I contacted the mother of an old friend of mine from college who runs a wild blueberry operation in Waldoboro, and she was more than willing to host our class and answer our questions. And besides, what could be better than talking about blueberries and dreaming of summertime in the midst of a dreary, snowless winter?
When we pulled up in the bus at John and Susan Morris’s house last Friday, I swung the bus door open and three large, friendly dogs marched right onto the bus to greet us. The students were already enamored with the situation before we could even step outside, and it only got better from there. Susan spent two hours with us, giving us all the juicy details of what it’s like to grow wild Maine blueberries while the students took turns jotting down notes so that we could transcribe the important information into our journals later on. One of the highlights of our trip was when Susan simulated how the winnowing machine separates the blueberries from stems and leaves by pouring chocolate chips, Rice Krispies, and Corn Flakes into the machine. The students loved having a shower of cereal bits rain down on them, as this complex machine sorted out the chocolate chips into a bin (because they were the most similar to blueberries). We were able to sample large handfuls of Susan’s frozen blueberries as well, which were delicious and much more appealing to all of us than boring old chocolate chips.
As we walked up through the blueberry fields with Susan, we learned about how the bushes are burned, what it takes to grow organic berries, and some of the highlights and tribulations of blueberry farming. Because 99% of Maine’s wild blueberry crop is frozen and most is used as a food ingredient, it was amazing for the students to meet a member of the 1% of farmers who sells fresh berries. Having the opportunity to walk with Susan through her beloved hilltop fields helped us to get a better picture of what people in Maine have been doing for hundreds, and actually thousands of years, starting with the Native People who cared for the wild blueberry barrens. Since blueberries are an important part of Maine’s history, as well as our present-day agricultural economy, it feels essential that we explore the relationship between people and the land as it relates to this dynamic fruit.
Have a wonderful weekend!