Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29: Blueberries

Tonight I know I'll be dreaming of blueberries. Even now I can still see them in my mind, piles of the blue-red berries cascading off the winnower in a never-ending stream...

Coastal Mountains Land Trust, for which I work, runs an organic blueberry farm at its Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport. For about a month in the middle of each summer, we harvest the fruit to sell; the blueberry sales thus support the upkeep of the preserve, a popular place to hike and observe nature (it's on the Maine Birding Trail too--stop #31!). Although today was my day off, I don't often get to spend time at the hill when the blueberry harvest is going on. That's not my department. So I volunteered to work at the farm stand for the day just to be a small part of one of our more exciting and enjoyable projects.

Mostly I sold quarts of berries to preserve visitors while the farm workers winnowed. Our winnower is a behemoth of a machine that sucks in boxes of blueberries just as they were raked in the fields, with all the twigs, leaves, unripe berries, and other detritus, and spits out whole, clean blueberries at the other end. Here's a photo of me helping out a few years ago with the end of the winnowing process, quality-checking the final products (i.e. removing the rejects by hand) as the berries roll past one last time into waiting boxes:
In the photo above it doesn't look like there are a lot of berries there, but that's only because they had to slow the process way down for me, a non-professional, so I could more thoroughly pick out the unwanted berries that made it through the winnowing process and properly meet our quality standards. The farm workers--today a team of young women who have worked for us for several summers and really know what they're doing--can pick through a full conveyor belt of berries moving at a very fast speed while talking on their cell phones. The end result is quarts of super-clean berries of very high quality. What you don't see are the buckets and bins full of the reject berries and other material, twigs and little green berries and squished berries that stain everything--the machine, the workers, the floor, the boxes--purple.

To occupy myself today when not selling quarts, chatting with preserve visitors, or replenishing quarts from the winnower, I picked through several buckets full of the rejected berries, etc. to get myself a full quart. It took me most of the afternoon, and my fingers are now stained a deep purple. I'm literally marked by the experience. But I've got more fresh berries in the refrigerator, ample reward for today's work on the farm. 

Fingers tattooed blue.
Rolling berries, more berries,
when I close my eyes.

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