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Updated: July 8, 2024

After nine generations, Cape Elizabeth farm closes strawberry fields forever

Strawberry field at Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. Photo / Renee Cordes After nine generations of growing strawberries, Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth will close for good. This is the farm on June 26, a day before this season’s abrupt closure due to fruit flies.

After nine generations of farming in Cape Elizabeth and a curtailed season, Maxwell's Farm is permanently closing operations, including its popular strawberry fields, the family-owned business announced over the weekend.

“It is with heavy hearts and many tears that we are announcing this year, 2024, was the FINAL season of Maxwell’s Strawberry Farm,” Maxwell’s said in a Sunday morning email to customers.

“Believe when we say, we feel the weight of nine generations in this decision. The lives of Ken, Elsie, Bill, Lois, Joel  and Joy have revolved around their faith, their family and this farm,” the note continued.

"Due to growing challenges for small family farms and increasing barriers at most every turn, we’ve found it impossible to balance these three pillars. We have poured love, stress, sweat, sleepless nights and so much more into this land, this lifestyle and this community. After years of painstaking consideration and attempts to adapt to the challenges of farming in the current landscape, we have come to the very hard decision to close Maxwell’s Farm.”

The decision comes less than a week after an invasion of fruit flies prompted an abrupt end to the 2024 season. It was otherwise going strong, amid a sunnier start to summer than last year's.

Picking this year was at Maxwell's Bowery Beach Field location, located on U.S. Route 77 between the Inn by the Sea and and the entrance to Crescent Beach State Park.

Best known as a pick-your-own agricultural enterprise, Maxwell’s has also been a longtime wholesaler to local businesses including Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland and the Kettle Cove Creamery and Shack in Cape Elizabeth. Every year, both sell seasonal ice cream and sauce made with Maxwell's strawberries.

'End of an era'

Maxwell's posted its announcement on social media, prompting 220 comments by early Sunday evening.

"The sad end of an era for many, including my family and our treasured annual tradition of picking your perfect berries," replied Charity Carlson Hirst. "We wish you the best and thank you for all the sweet memories."

While many reflected on fond memories going back to childhood, Elizabeth Hussey offered empathy as a current fourth-generation owner of a small family business.

"There are innumerable challenges we face each day with the added pressure of knowing multiple generations fought against this very decision," she posted. "It's with that constant weight on my shoulders that my whole heart goes out to you all."

Ongoing challenges

Maxwell's closure comes as the number of farms, and farmland, continues to dwindle nationwide. In Maine, the number of farms declined from 7,600 in 2017 to 7,036 in 2022, according to the latest census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“We all know that the challenges faced by family farms here in Maine are mounting — from aging infrastructure and development pressure to the difficulties finding staff due to lack of affordable housing,” Rhiannon Hampson, Maine state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture  Rural Development program, told Mainebiz in an emailed statement.

“Maine farms are unique businesses, providing us with not only high-quality food, but often a sense of community and shared history,” she added. “Farms such as Maxwell’s are institutions in our collective memory, and their loss resonates throughout the state.

"This is yet another reason that we at USDA Rural Development are working so hard to deploy the funding we’re given in support of Maine’s family farms — with everything from getting folks into affordable housing, to renewable energy grants to help lower the costs of doing business, we are diligently striving to keep Maine farming.”

Roots and retail

Underscoring that there is no single reason for closing Maxwell’s, the owners urged their customers to continue supporting local farms through patronage and legislation.

“We would also ask you to share in our appreciation for the generations of Rodriguez family members who have joined our community from Puerto Rico and worked at Maxwell’s Farm for the past five decades,” they said in Sunday's message. "The Rodriguez/Bamford/Maxwell family could not have provided the past 51 years of sweet strawberry memories without you … and for that, we thank you.”

Maxwell's Farm traces its history back to a certain James Maxwell, who was listed as a "grantor and husbandman" in a property deed dated May 7, 1762. His date of birth and other details about him remain a mystery.

For today's customers wanting to own a piece of Cape Elizabeth history, Maxwell's is still selling hats, onesies and other branded merchandise on its website, which also lists strawberry recipes from coffee cake to panna cotta.

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