*Blueberrying-How it all works*
By: Eli
9-30-02

During blueberry season (August) here in Maine, alot of Rubies were asking me how you picked up blueberries with a rake. Also there was alot of question asto where blueberries come from. Well here's the "short" story behind it all. Blueberrying is a big booming business here in the summer. I could type pages upon pages from smaller fields all the way upto the big company fields with all the fancy irrigation and machinery. I'll get some pics of the "big stuff" at another time.

Blueberry season has been in existence in Downeast Maine ever since time was recorded. A good portion of Washington County is made up of blueberry barrens(ground). The ground is usually flat and desolate, but in some places becomes hilly or ravines. The barrens are virtually endless, all dirt roads, better know where you're going because there's no road signs, for miles all you see are barrens.

In the early summertypically a cropduster will fly over the barrens and spray fertilizer/pesticide. Shortly thereafter honeybees will be trucked in from down south. They polinate the bushes for about 4 weeks and make a big mess on your windshield when you drive by. Larger companies have irrigation for their land, smaller private lots typically do not.

After the bees are gone the blossoms bloom. After the blossoms come the berries. Around the first week of August the berries are ripe enough to harvest. Migrant workers from Mexico and down that area show up for the season. They typically are hired by the companies to rake rougher ground where the harvesters can't go. A harvester is a attachment on a tractor that rakes the berries from the bushes and then winnows them out and dumps them into boxes. They require flat ground to be effective.

Anyways, here's our experience with Blueberrying 2002!! Working for the larger companies in the area is a whole different ballgame. Dealing with migrant workers from Mexico and that region who can't hardly speak a word of English. They travel around the country all year working seasonal jobs.

My landlord who's a good friend of mine asked me if I'd crewboss a crew for him this year. Me being always ready for a new challenge said "yup". My pay would be .03 cents per pound. That adds up quick. I called around and got about 12 people who said they'd rake for me. We were paying $3.00 a box which is about .75 cents over what the companies typically pay. Finding local people to rake is hard these days. On the first day I had only 10 people show out of the 12. We hit the field at about 6:30am and started raking. My job was to manage the crew and keep up with their needs. Being such a small crew I was able to do alot of raking also.

Out of the 10 people, only 3 had ever raked before. I figured, yup, I'm screwed. I was totally wrong. The crew I had was pretty good. Every morning they were here at 0600ish ready to go. We'd rake until about 3pm, sometimes quit at noon if it was too hot. After 3 weeks we had the berries raked. Here's basically how it works.

You stand on your head all day with your arse in the air and rake berries. Fill the rake, dump it into a bucket.

The next step is to "winnow". Winnowing blows the leaves and any other loose junk out of the berries. We use 3 HP winnowing machines that blow air through the berries. Dump the bucket of berries into the machine, slowly and as the berries fall down into the box the leaves, twigs, etc blow away. Wish I had a pic.

After the winnowing process all you hafta do it stack your boxes up and stick a name tag in the stack.

The crew boss comes along an counts everyone's boxes before loading them onto the truck. Very important..that's how the rakers get paid..by the box. They are generally stacked on wooden pallets, 6 stacks 10 boxes high per pallet. We could put 6 pallets on our truck. Each box weight average is 24.50 lbs...adds up quick....especially for my .03cents per pound. We got somes boxes heavy enuff to weigh in at an average of 26.75 lbs per box...that's totally outstanding!!

Once the boxes are loaded and it's worth "running the berries in" I would take them to the receiving station. There we would off-load the truck with a forklift and weigh each loaded pallet. The owner gets paid by how many pounds are delivered and he inturn pays the rest of us.

In the factory the berries are inspected for maggots and then shipped into processing. In processing they are sorted over. Any unripe berries, remaining debris that went thru the winnowing machine are cleaned out. From there they are washed, cleaned etc. Finally they get packed and shipped out. Eventually they hit the market. So maybe the blueberries in the blueberry pie you just ate came from us!! Enjoy..we litereally busted our butts & backs.

We had alot of fun during the season. Learned that exhaust systems and grass fields don't get along good. Had a nice little fire start up under a vehicle and take off across the field. Both my friend(the owner) and I were extremly happy and very impressed with how much got done with what there was for a crew. We'll have the same crew next year and work on recruiting a few others (any of you Rubies wanna try raking berries???!!) It's hard work, but if you are determined you can make a nice chunk of $$ at it. I'm looking forward to next year!
Eli



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