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Updated: July 23, 2021

Senate recognizes blueberry industry, as Maine plans weekend festival

Wild Blueberry Land domed building Photo / Jim Neuger Wild Blueberry Land, a museum, bakery and retail outlet for all things blueberry, is a big draw for tourists in Columbia Falls.

A bipartisan resolution unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday and co-sponsored by Maine's two senators recognizes the importance of the blueberry industry and its $4.7 billion annual economic impact.

The resolution specifically mentions Maine, and pays tribute to the indigenous Wabanaki people for first managing and harvesting wild, or lowbush, blueberries and continuing to do so as a native crop.

Besides the economic impact, the resolution notes that blueberry production in the United States increased to 730 million pounds in 2020. Highbush and wild blueberries have a total estimated harvested area of more than 140,000 acres and are produced in 48 states by nearly 13,185 farms. 

Maine is the leading producer of lowbush, or wild, blueberries. Maine's wild blueberry crop was valued at $27.5 million in 2017. According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, five Maine counties grow wild berries, though most production is based Downeast in Washington County. 

With the harvest reaching its peak in July, the resolution designates the seventh month of the year as National Blueberry Month. The resolution noted that wild blueberries still grow and are harvested where they have naturally occurred for thousands of years, and that the berries have numerous health benefits.

U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, longtime advocates for the Maine blueberry industry and its workers, issued a joint statement welcoming the measure's passage.

“The wild blueberry industry has been an integral part of our state’s economy and culture for centuries,” they said. “Our bipartisan resolution recognizes the blueberry industry’s many important contributions to our state, particularly as Maine wild blueberry producers recover from the tremendous strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to work to ensure a bright future for wild blueberry growers across Maine.”

In 2019, all four members of Maine's congressional delegation sent a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include the wild blueberry industry in the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, which provides financial aid to agricultural producers affected by China’s retaliatory tariffs.

The following year during the pandemic, the delegation joined a bipartisan group of senators in successfully urging the USDA to make blueberry growers eligible for the $16 billion in agricultural assistance provided by the CARES Act.

August festivities in Maine 

Separately on Friday, Gov. Janet Mills is scheduled to give remarks in Augusta declaring Aug. 7-8 as Maine's first annual Wild Blueberry Weekend, featuring farm tours and other activities in Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Piscataquis and Washington counties.

Patricia Kontur, director of programs for the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, and Maine Department of Agriculture Commissioner Amanda Beal will also be present.

During the August weekend festival, wild blueberry-themed dishes and products will also be available all weekend at restaurants, inns, breweries, wineries, ice cream shops and distilleries across the state. Participating businesses include Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick and Portland, Bixby & Co. in Rockland, Mabel's Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport and Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls.

More information about the weekend festivities is available online.

The plans come during a berry busy summer for Jasper Wyman & Son, the Milbridge-based frozen-fruit supplier. The company's Bee Wild Mobile is currently traveling across the state, bringing information, prizes and Wyman's Just Fruit cups to potential customers.

In 2019 the company, a family-owned concern led by President and CEO Tony Shurman, introduced a number of new products to shake things up in an industry that has been hit hard by years of overproduction and low prices.

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