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We live in Washington county, Maine. This county provides 95% of the world’s supply of wild blueberries. They’re low bush, not the high bush stand-up-straight-and-pick kind of berries many people think of. Raking blueberries is hard work. This article was previously published but it’s worth a reprint while I’m unplugged. See you next week!
The crop can be brought in even in the dark with mechanical harvesters. A lot has changed since I wrote this 10 years ago.
It’s blueberry season. Each year rakers come to the blueberry barrens in Washington county, Maine to bring in the year’s harvest. Washington county provides 95% of the world’s wild blueberries. They grow on low bushes. A rake looks like a rectangular box with long tines. You rake berries buy scooping the rake under the berries, tilting the rake back to keep from spilling its contents, and pulling up. Once you get the hang of it you can make a couple of swipes at an area and clean the bushes off quickly. raking blueberries
This morning my 12 year old daughter Taylor decided she wanted to try raking blueberries with her friends. You should be at the field when it opens at 6 a.m. to get started before the heat of the day. It was 6:45 a.m. when she asked to go. Ok. Not a problem. I’m flexible and could change my plans for early morning (which involved a walk through the garden when it was foggy and cool, drinking another cup of coffee) long enough to take her to the field and get her signed up. Or so I thought. I was going to leave T with her best friend’s dad so that I could come home to do chores and work in the garden. Best friend and her dad weren’t there. “No kids under 13 on the field without direct supervision.” Ok. Not a problem. I could put off my work, stay here and we’ll rake til noon. I took a look around. There were kids under 13 and not another parent in sight. I wanted to point that out but Taylor was interested in raking blueberries, not who knows who so you can drop your kid off and leave.
It took us an hour to rake one 10′ x 100′ row. The berries were good but the barren is in poor shape. It hasn’t been burned to kill back weeds in several years. We raked a lot of grass and weeds that had to be cleaned out of the rakes every three or four feet. Between us we made almost $3.50. We were paid .14¢ a pound for the berries. When we went to the weigh station the owner dumped our berries and told us we were good rakers with nice clean buckets. Buckets, by the way, are five gallon buckets. A good sized wild blueberry is the size of a pea. There are a lot of berries in that bucket. That was enough was enough for us. If we’re going to work that hard we’ll do it here on the farm by picking green beans for Senior FarmShare tomorrow. It pays a lot better!
I understand now why Kristin didn’t like raking blueberries. You work bent over at all times by taking a step, making a swipe with the rake, making another swipe, taking a step. Repeat. Clean out weeds, leaves and grass, dump berries into a five gallon bucket. Start again. Add in 90°-95° and 90% humidity and glaring sun to the work. This is not the job for me. I’m glad we’ve all tried it now. Raking blueberries is almost a rite of passage out here.
When we were leaving T’s friends asked why she was going so soon. She pointed to a five gallon bucket and said, “That’s worth almost $40 to me at farmers market. I’m not doing it for $3.00.” I’m sure the kids didn’t understand but T will explain it to them when she sees them Friday. raking blueberries
This is a lesson in the importance of buying locally from farmers. She’s heard me say it for years. Now she has first hand experience and understands. She raked blueberries for herself for 20 minutes Sunday afternoon. She brought them home, blew the leaves out of them with a small fan, and boxed them up in quarts. She had three quarts that she sold yesterday at farmers market for $4 each. She made $1.54 an hour today by raking for a grower who will turn around and sell them to a processing plant. She made $11.75 an hour after expenses (she used a rake we already had) by selling her berries to the end customer. When she raked for someone else it paid .14¢ a pound. When she raked for herself she made $1.96 a pound. In the end, the customer is getting the same product for the same price and it’s fresh, not frozen. This is something to keep in mind when you drive by a farmstand or farmers market. Farmers need your dollars far more than the grocery stores do. They work hard in the hot sun, or cold rain, and deserve a decent wage.
raking blueberries, raking blueberries