NORRIDGEWOCK — In the blueberry bushes at the Smith farm, pickers aren’t worrying about the coronavirus pandemic or the stressful state of politics.

They stand out in the fresh air, buckets hung from their necks, birds chirping and bees buzzing, and they pick, pick, pick, the plump, blue berries that are thick on the bush.

They will take them home to make blueberry pies, cakes, muffins and jam — or plop them in the freezer for winter baking.

For farm owners Al and Tracey Smith and their son, Cub, Smith’s U-Pick Blueberries at 162 Ward Hill Road is their happy place.

“We have so much fun,” Tracey Smith said. “Nobody shows up grumpy to pick blueberries. I love it.”

On Saturday, the Smiths, who live in Cornville, were up early, ready for the pickers who often arrive before the 8 a.m. opening time at their Norridgewock farm. Some stay all day, picking many pounds of the high-bush blueberries. Some pick for a while, take a breather and come back to pick more.

There are many blueberry varieties, including Puritan, Jersey, Blueray and Norlands. Some pickers bring their own boxes, while others use the farm’s blue buckets which are sanitized after every use during the pandemic. Everyone practices social distancing and the Smiths have a table outside if people want to place their berries there to be weighed and returned so there is no human contact.

A bucket of blueberries from Smith’s U-Pick Blueberry Farm on Ward Hill Road in Norridgewock. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The berries are a bargain, at $2 a pound if customers pick themselves, or $5 for already-picked quarts.

It is a banner crop this year, according to the Smiths, who attribute the boon  to their bringing in extra bumble bees and installing an irrigation system. Honey bees also help make the crop healthy.

Amy Gaudette and her daughter, Hannah, 18, of Anson, plopped their bowl and bucket on the counter after picking Saturday morning, the fifth time they have come this season. They freeze the berries and make jam, they said.

“We’re at 65 or 70 pounds,” Amy Gaudette said. “Our goal is 100. They were really jumping off the bush today. It’s a little piece of heaven out here.”

Cub Smith said he has picked a little over 170 pounds of berries so far this year. He picks very quickly and can have a couple of quarts picked in about five minutes.

The family does everything possible to make it convenient for older pickers to be comfortable out in the field. Jeannette Bolduc, 85, of Mercer and her daughter, Barbara Gerry, of Winslow were able to drive their vehicle to the back of the field and park close to the bushes.

“We usually come to the back because most people are at the front,” Bolduc said. “My husband, Bob, has a hard time to walk. He picks from a chair. He was here last week but he is fishing today.”

Bolduc said she loves coming to the Smith farm because everyone is so friendly. Also, Tracey Smith bakes blueberry desserts and lays out free samples for patrons. On Saturday, the fare was blueberry gingerbread.

Cub Smith handles jars of blueberry jam Saturday at the desk at Smith’s U-Pick Blueberry Farm on Ward Hill Road in Norridgewock. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

It was Gerry’s first time blueberry picking and she was hooked.

“I love it — I’ll come back every time,” she said. “Also, look how big the blueberries are. They’re huge. This is my second bucket.”

The Smiths have owned the three-acre blueberry farm about two years, since buying it from the estate of Al’s late brother, Francis Smith, who died in a tragic farm accident. The farm was the dream of Francis Smith, who planned and opened it about 23 years ago. Al and Tracey helped over the years.

“He put in three to 400 plants and now we have 2,500,” Al Smith said. “Each year, he’d add a few.”

The farm is open 8 a.m. to dark every day. Al and Tracey have other jobs during the week and spend the weekend at the farm, where they love interacting with patrons. Many come back year after year. Their oldest patron is 94.

“You get to really know your customers,” Tracey Smith said. “It’s so wonderful to meet them. You see them every year. Our goal is to make it more of an experience. We have a family that comes from California — they have a camp in Mercer. We have a lot of people from the Belgrade area that come on vacation, a lot of people from Embden Pond. We have several families from Jackman that come down and make a day of it. It’s just so much fun.”

Al Smith said they never direct customers to a specific area or row of bushes — they are encouraged to pick where they want.

“We have folks that come every year and they go to the same bush,” he said.

The Smiths do not spray their blueberries. Tracey Smith likes to say they share their berries — with the birds — and do not want them to get sick. Deer also come to dine, as do turkeys and other birds.

The family starts working with the bushes in March, after the snow leaves.

“We trim the bushes back,” Al Smith says as he walks along a row of blueberries. “We place sawdust and wood chips around the bushes, which helps keep the grass down.”

It is quiet and peaceful among the blueberry bushes, some of which are more than 7 feet tall. Picking started in July and will continue into September — typically a six- to eight-week season.

This year, the Smiths have seen a lot of new faces and surmise the reason is, in part, that people wanting to do something “normal” during the pandemic. There are plenty of berries to go around for everyone, and another round of growth is expected.

“It has been wonderful — just absolutely wonderful,” Tracey Smith said.

The farm has a Facebook page, Smith’s Blueberries, where people may ask questions. The farm may be reached at 431-2056.

 


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