at the strawberry farm and remembering the blueberry summer

June 2, 2010 |  Category:   life outings remembering seasonal

Strawberry picking in June often marks the beginning of the fruit picking season. It was a little early when we went out this weekend, but there were still plenty of strawberries in the patch and we spent a few leisurely hours at the farm, feeding animals, eating apple cider donuts and slurping on apple cider slushies to cool off. It was fairly hot, the kind of day that reminds you that everyday in summer is like this.

I never went fruit picking as a kid. I don’t know if this is something that has grown in popularity as an outing destination in the last 10 years of so or if maybe it was just my family, but I don’t recall any of my friends going fruit picking either. So it was really interesting when one summer in 1990, during the 3 months off we had from college, I found myself picking blueberries in Maine, not for fun, but for money.

Don’t ask me how or why or what I was even thinking, and even though I can still remember how grueling the work was, I’m glad that I can count those 5 weeks of blueberry picking as one of my life experiences. You have to remember that I was a kid from New York City and knew nothing about farming and migrant workers, never mind how to pick berries off low laying bushes with a rake. I also really really sucked at it. You had to be strong to constantly bend down with your back to rake these berries for 6+ hours a day, scooping up as many as you can catch with your rake and dumping them in your bucket. You had to be strong to carry full buckets filled with berries back to the end of your row. It was all about being economical and efficient with your movements. I was neither of these things. I wasn’t strong and I didn’t move smartly. I also pretty much hated that kind of physical labor at the height of summer temps and back then, nobody wore sunscreen, so we got really tan, not to mention sore. But as a kid from New York City, it was an interesting experience and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. No, I have much respect for the way our food comes to us in stores. You don’t really think how the berries you eat were picked by people. We came across many illegal workers, but there were also folks who traveled from other parts of the country to do seasonal work and some of the women kicked ass and out picked any of the guys in the line on the field on any given day.

I think I lasted about 2 weeks on the first large, commercial blueberry farm that we raked at. It wasn’t because I wanted to give up, but because of the pesticides that the farms used. Some days you can see cloudy dusts of pesticides hovering over the fields in the sun’s haze. I knew this wasn’t good, so we sought out smaller, family owned organic farms. During these blueberry picking weeks, we’d stay at houses of people that we’d meet. That may sound crazy, but with a little caution and a good head on your shoulders, we learned that we can trust the world to take care of us. One of the houses that we stayed at was a true hobbit house built out of stone and mud. 2 big round rooms with pointed roofs and windows connected by a short breezeway. A vegetable garden out front and wildflowers all around. You had to drive on a half secluded dirt road off the main road to get there. I wouldn’t be able to find it again if you asked me to. Sometimes I wonder if the hobbit house is still there. Sometimes I wonder if it existed at all, but the only thing that convinces me that it was real is because I can remember the house so clearly. It was magic.

On the days we didn’t pick blueberries we drove out to the jagged coastline and swam. The nights were often hot, muggy and filled with vicious mosquitoes, but the days were beautiful and the water was dazzling. Wading out into those gentle bay waters surrounded by nothing but a million flecks of sparkling reflections made you feel like you were standing in the most awesome place on earth.

I haven’t been back to Maine since that summer 20 years ago. It has long since been on my list of places I want to visit again, but the drive is on the side of a little too long to make it comfortably with the kids. One day though, but until then I can can still see the purple fields filled with blueberries reaching all the way out to the horizon. I can feel that hot sun that turns the blueberries ripe and sweet. I can still smell the heavily perfumed scent of blueberries that seemed to follow us everywhere.

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  • Mery June 2, 2010 at 7:09 am

    These images of the girls are gorgeous!!!! and I liked the story too. I grew up in a country where there’s no blueberries … maybe they have them now as it seems they can grow anything anywhere these days… but back then when I was little I looooved blueberries so every time I came to vacation here to the US I’d try to eat everything and anything blueberry but always in baked goods. it wasn’t until 10 years ago or so that I realized you could get them at the grocery store in their natural fruit state and not the syrupy goo that you eat in pies… it was life transforming! that and when I found out you can also get cherries in the produce section. …I feel I’m pretty assimilated to the American culture but then I remember how in awe I was of little things like that and it’s kind of cool to be surprised and learn new things after so many years of living here, you know?

  • Angie June 2, 2010 at 7:13 am

    what a cute happy picture of claudine running!

    i’ve always like all the pictures of the two sisters together. =)

  • Selkie June 2, 2010 at 7:53 am

    After running to the coast of Maine every chance I got for 35 years, I moved here. I bought a piece of land/house surrounded by blueberry, seemingly for the many deer/fox/turkey diners that visit. Standing in the sea on a hot summer’s day is the best, Popham Beach the best, Bath area, 3/4 hr north of Portland. Easy flight to Portland from NYC; A long weekend.
    Very high quality of life, here.

  • Chuzai Living June 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I love all the photos, but especially the last one! It looks like it came out of a magazine. Love the dress your daughter is wearing in the photo, too. I want one for myself. 🙂 I haven’t had the time to read the whole post, but I just wanted to tell you how I love the photo! -Kaho

  • Maggie June 2, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for your post — it brought back some wonderful memories. It’s not a fad! Some of my earliest photos (so we’re talking over 30 years ago now) are of me in a strawberry patch, picking and eating (more eating than picking, truth be told). It was the thing to do with family and friends, probably because there’s a lot of farmland (still) in southern Ontario. I always feel like summer hasn’t started until the pick-your-own-berry farms are open. If I have kids I’m definitely taking them!

  • emma June 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Where was it you went to pick strawberries? The place looks great and we’ve been trying to find a U-pick within easy reach of Brooklyn.

  • Cate June 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I loved this story! So descriptive I could feel and see what you wrote.

    When I was a kid growing up in what is now Silicon Valley, there were apricot and plum orchards everywhere. We used to beg my parents to let us pick fruit when we were kids. We never did, but my parents did take us to pick berries in Watsonville, CA a few summers and my mom and her friend would make jam. I think I will do this with my daughter this summer.

  • bronwyn June 2, 2010 at 9:43 am

    I love the photos and the story. I’m sure that summer left an impression. I’ve always wanted to visit Maine. It just seems like such a pretty place. Selkie’s comment makes me want to visit even more. 🙂 Can you imagine a living in a house surrounded by blueberries? I’m so excited for berry picking season. It will be a few weeks before we are able to go, but I can’t wait!

  • Annie June 2, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Lovely pictures!
    Where did you go?

  • erin, reading my tea leaves June 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

    lovely images and fascinating memories.

  • GC June 2, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Hey there!

    Looks amazing, which farm is this? I want to take my kids! We lived in the village until I had my first baby and now live on the south shore two blocks from the beach – still I miss NYC…sometimes 😉

    I love how much you take the kids out and about despite how busy you are, it can’t be easy though you make it look that way! Any secrets to it?

    Thank you!

  • Annie From Seattle June 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    What a great post! I feel like I’ve taken a little vacation by reading it. It’s also a good reminder that all of our food comes from the labor of a human hand and to be appreciative for it.
    PS I can practically picture that Hobbit house. Hope you see it again someday. Fun!

  • joslyn June 2, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    jenna — this story is magical.

    one of my best/hardest summers was spent at a camp outside of vancouver working as the baker. I baked 300 loaves of bread a day. it was insane. you’re story totally brought me back.


  • Jenna June 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    emma, GC, we went to Terhune farms near Princeton NJ. It was about an hour and 15 minute drive from BK.

  • Ashley at Hither and Thither June 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Terhune farms! Got it.
    You can disregard my question on the other post–should have read here, first. But I’ve been going through your archive in sort of an out-of-order way, and I’m hooked! My husband and I moved to NY a few years ago and write about our adventures here–I loved reading your stories about growing up here and living in the East Village. And it’s nice to see how one thrives as a young family. Can’t wait to try some of your sweets at the Flea sometime.