LIVERMORE FALLS — Since beginning to care for the family orchard in 2010, Joel Gilbert and his wife, Melissa, have made many changes and were recently recognized for their accomplishments.

The Gilberts own and operate Berry Fruit Farm, with locations on the Crash Road in Livermore and their storefront in Livermore Falls. They have been named the 2020 Maine Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

Joel Gilbert’s great-grandfather, Lewis Berry, opened Berry Hill Orchards in 1945. His grandfather, Carlton Berry, taught Joel how to grow apples.

Gilbert said he started out selling apples wholesale.

“In 2012 we changed our business model, went to more direct customer sales,” he said. “We established the Crash Road location the next year, opened the farmstand that fall. Melissa started offering baked goods.”

Customers could pick their own apples, strawberries and raspberries in season or purchase them already picked. Seasonal vegetables were also sold. The farmstand was open seasonally only.

Gilbert said for the past seven years, Berry Fruit Farm has been part of the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.

“It provides fresh fruits and vegetables to low income families throughout Maine,” he said.

Berry Fruit Farm also participates in the Maine Senior FarmShare Program. The program provides income-eligible Maine seniors with farm raised products. Processed foods are not included.

In November 2018 the Gilberts added the Livermore Falls storefront, open year-round to their business. Expansion of the bakery and convenience for customers were the driving forces behind the new location. Soups, artisan salads and new breads were introduced.

Last December, the farm entered a partnership with Regional School Unit 73 to get more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables into most of the district’s schools. Funding came from the Maine Department of Education’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The Gilberts procured produce and packaged it to make serving easier for the schools’ staff.

“It was getting kids introduced to ones they’d never had before then,” Gilbert said. “It’s on hold right now (with schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic). Possibly we can start up again for the summer feeding program.”

For the past 10 months, Gilbert has been mentored by Steve Robinson from SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).

“Steve’s been a real great guy,” he said. “He’s challenged us to rise above the everyday challenges and look to the future to excel, meet our goals.

“We’re looking for ways to create better food security for our area, make sure fresh fruits and vegetables are available.”

Gilbert said plans include expanding the product line at the store to include catering and adding new menu items.

“They’ll be made with fresh, local ingredients when people are able to access them,” Gilbert said. “We made curbside service (due to COVID-19) and expanded our website to include e-commerce.

“People can purchase through that from anywhere, pick up at the store. We ship some products as well.”

Gilbert said while the award is for the family-owned business of the year, it wouldn’t have been possible without their employees.

“We couldn’t do this alone,” he said. “Our employees have helped us rise to the occasion. This is as much for them and our parents.

“They’re all instrumental in the success of our company.”

Keith Lind with the Maine SBA office, said in an email, “The Butland Award is for a small business that has been passed down from one generation to another, and has been in operation for a minimum of 15 years.

“The Gilberts were nominated by Steve Robinson from SCORE, and were selected based on their efforts to expand the business, diversify their products, and their participation in programs like SBA’s Emerging Leaders program.”

More information is available at 207-897-4767, on  their website or or their Facebook page

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