Tag Archives: Maine Farms 2017

In blueberry country, two farms hand the rake to the next generation

by Rebecca Goldfine

Photographs by Sean Alonzo Harris

Blueberry season brings traffic to the remote barrens of Down East Washington County, and to Helen’s Restaurant, a Machias mainstay since 1950. At Helen’s, guests line up at the counter for the signature whipped cream-topped pie filled with a quart-and-a-half of fresh, uncooked berries. The berries in their nationally-famous pie are all tended to sweet plumpness from nearby Welch Farm’s foggy perch in Roque Bluffs. “Out by the ocean, the berries taste better,” Helen’s owner Julie Barker says of the hand-raked product Welch Farm delivers daily to the restaurant, in season. “They are always free of sticks and leaves, and never soggy.”

Washington County farms like Welch and nearby Moon Hill Farm constitute an otherwise mom-and- pop backbone of Maine’s 500-plus blueberry farms, working to transfer their enterprises to the next generation in an era of consolidation and depressed blueberry contract prices. Father-daughter duo Lisa and Wayne Hanscom run Welch Farm with help from relatives, including Wayne’s ex-mother-in-law. Their family has held the farm since 1912, when Wayne’s grandfather, Frank Welch, bought 1,000 acres. Frank initially raised livestock and grew grains. By the late 1920s, he had turned primarily to blueberries, once undervalued as commonplace like lobster, marketing his crop as “fog-nourished Bluff Point berries.”

Diversification has been critical to saving the farm. The Hanscoms are eagerly introducing agritourism and selling more “fresh pack” berries direct from their farm stand. Lisa and Wayne’s bond translates to a well-balanced business. When Lisa first suggested building tourist cabins on their land, Wayne was skeptical. When she proposed offering farm tours, he asked, “Why? Who would come?” But when a tour bus pulls in today, visitors enthusiastically pour out. And there is a further commercial side—after giving a farm tour, Lisa offers her berries and unbranded homemade jams for sale.

Welch Farm’s fresh-pack yield is still small— constituting just 12,000 of the farm’s total yield of 98,000 pounds in 2015—and Wayne plans to expand it. Instead of selling all their machine-harvested berries to frozen processors for only 38 cents a pound, Welch sets aside two to three acres to “spot rake” and sell directly for $5 a quart (1.5 pounds).

Due to financially-necessary waterfront land sales, Welch Farm has been whittled down to 340 acres. “I don’t want our farm to get any smaller,” Lisa stresses.

Lisa has always been Wayne’s obvious heir-apparent. Young Wayne was the same way when he trailed his grandfather Frank Welch around the farm making it clear Frank could pass it down with confidence. About a decade ago, Lisa started helping Wayne run the farm full-time. She hopes their efforts will allow her to pass on a durable farm to her daughter, Alexandra.

 

Twenty-five miles further Down East, the Beal family is sorting the certified organic wild blueberries they’ve raked since 1991 on Moon Hill Farm in Whiting. Only about 12% of Maine’s “wild” blueberries are organic, but “there’s a lot of potential” to grow this hot market through fresh sales, says University of Maine blueberry expert David Yarborough.

Tim Beal also has deep roots in Washington County where his family goes back four generations. Tim started raking blueberries when he was eight; his father, a Bangor Daily News bureau chief, took the month of August off each year when he put the family to work on his ‘vacation’ project. The Beals all worked for Wyman’s alongside a crew from Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq people. As they all toiled on the fruit, Tim’s dad assiduously reported on the blueberry business beat. In the early 1980s, he broke stories on the first mechanical pickers, as well as the wild blueberry industry’s transition from organic practices to its widespread embrace of pesticides to control the dreaded maggot fly.

Tim’s California-born wife, Lydia, met her husband at the University of Maine at Machias. As a young couple, they chose to homestead in Washington County. “We wanted land, and we wanted blueberry land,” Lydia said. “We wanted to be somewhat remote, to have space and the freedom to develop what we wanted to develop.” Their 260-acre farm is at the end of a dirt road; just at the moment you think that you must have overshot the place, a driveway curls up past the Beals’ 10 acres of blueberries to reach their barn and home.

Last winter, the Beals extended ownership of the farm to their children—Nick, Jay, and Clara, who grew up in the blueberry fields. The packing building walls still bear faint blue smears where as kids they threw berries at each other. With help from Maine Farmland Trust, the Beals recently formed an LLC, the first step in making each child an equal business partner. Both of the boys are building houses on the farm, ensuring, like the Hanscoms, that the business will be in local family hands for at least one more generation of blueberry production.

rebecca goldfine is a Maine native who reports on student life for Bowdoin College communications and writes the trail guide site | mainebyfoot.com

Additional reporting here by Laura McCandlish.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

The legendary blueberry pie at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias is made with Welch Farm berries

and was featured on Food52.com last summer. Helen’s owner Julie Barker, whose father processed blueberries on his Washington County farm, says this original recipe, handwritten and stenciled, is unchanged since Helen and Larry Mugnai opened the restaurant in 1950.

For 6 servings

 

BLUEBERRY GEL

3 tablespoons frozen blueberries

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup water

½ ounce cornstarch

 

PIE CRUST

3 cups flour

1 ½ cup shortening 1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons water

 

BLUEBERRY PIE

1 ½ quarts fresh Maine wild blueberries

1 cup blueberry gel

1 quart heavy whipping cream

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

 

1. Make the blueberry gel. In a double boiler over medium-low heat, mix together the frozen blueberries, sugar, water and Let simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Mix together the flour, shortening, salt, and water for the pie dough just until fi Shape into a 9-inch pie pan and crimp the edges and chill it for at least 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Then, once you are ready to bake, dock or prick the chilled dough all over with a fork and bake it for 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Let cool.

3. Combine the blueberries and cooled gel together in a large bowl and add the mixture to the pie crust.

4. Whip the whipping cream with the sugar and vanilla and then spread a thick layer all over the top of the blueberries.

5. Garnish the whipped topping with extra blueberries. Chill until solid and can be easily cut with a Cut into six generous pieces!

 

Enjoy.

This article is from the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms journal. Make sure to look through our archives.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

A sneak peek of the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms annual journal

In the next week or two, the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms annual journal will be arriving in mailboxes across the state and beyond. (Hot tip: If you’re not yet a member, or haven’t renewed in a few years, join today to make sure you get your copy of the journal!)
Here’s a sneak preview of some the stories you’ll find inside the new issue:
  • Nancy Harmon Jenkins heads north to find Maine-grown grain on the rise in potato country
  • Melissa Coleman considers the sustainability of scaling up
  • Farmer Stacy Brenner imagines the potential for savvy marketing to sync rural farmers and urban customers
  • Machias landmark Helen’s Restaurant shares a recipe for the very best blueberry pie
…and much MORE. 
 
By sharing the stories of Maine farms and food, we aim to cultivate a curious and informed community of people who are passionate about the future of farming in Maine.
We’re happy to offer this lush, informative, one-of-kind publication to our members. But the real benefit of joining MFT is knowing that you are taking an active and real stand for the future of farming in Maine. Your membership gift goes directly to helping protect farmland, support farmers and grow farming. We simply can’t do what we do without you!

Borealis Breads’ Steamed Brown Bread

In anticipation of our 2017 Maine Farms journal, we are delighted to share this exclusive recipe from Jim Amaral’s forthcoming cookbook, Borealis Breads: the Renaissance of Grains, due out September 2018. Amaral is the founder and owner of Borealis Breads and sparked the revival of local grain production in the 1990s. Wanting fresh whole wheat flour, Amaral began working with Matt Williams of Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus to reestablish a grower network and processing infrastructure that had been lost. The growth of Maine grains continues today, and the 2017 issue of our journal includes Up in The County: from Spuds to Grains by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Her article tracks the rise of grain production in Aroostook, driven by the growth of craft brewers, distillers, and bakers like Amaral, and the zeitgeist of the local food movement.

The new issue of Maine Farms is ripe with stories from Maine’s vibrant farm and food landscape. Don’t miss it!  Renew or join as a member today to receive your copy in the mail this July. 

BOREALIS BREADS' STEAMED BROWN BREAD

This simple bread is the epitome of comfort food. As you unmold the bread the aromas will embrace you with an
overwhelming sense of goodness. Slice while still warm and top with butter. Amaral bought his pudding mold at “Now
You’re Cooking” in Bath; you could substitute a 4-cup Bundt pan, then covered with tin foil and secured with string.

INGREDIENTS

(Grams, Ounces, Volume)
Whole Wheat Flour 100, 3.5, 2/3 cup
Whole Rye Flour 85, 3.0, 2/3 cup
Abenaki Flint Cornmeal 90, 3.2, 2/3 cup
Buttermilk 227, 8.0, 1 cup
Molasses 160, 5.6, 1/2 cup
Baking Soda 3, 0.1, 1 tsp
Salt 3, 0.1, 1 tsp

PROCEDURE

Grease the inside of a 1 quart pudding mold.

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and briefly whisk to distribute the ingredients evenly.

In another bowl whisk together the molasses and buttermilk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and using a spatula stir together until evenly combined.

Pour the batter into the pudding mold and place the cover on it. If a cover is unavailable for the mold, cover it with tin foil and secure the tinfoil to the mold with a piece of string.

Place a vegetable steamer in a large deep pot. Place the filled pudding mold on top of the vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water till it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pudding mold. Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a slow simmer.

Steam the brown bread for a total of 1 1/2 hours. After 45 minutes, top the water in the pot up so that it remains 3/4 of the way up the side of the pudding mold.

When done, remove the pudding mold from the pot and remove the lid on the mold. Insert a thin skewer into the bread, the skewer should come out clean.

Place the pudding mold on a cooling rack and let cool for ten minutes. Then using pot holders flip the mold over onto the cooling rack. The bread should slide easily out of the mold.

NOTES

The Maine grains:
Both the whole wheat flour and whole rye flour are grown and milled by Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus, Maine. They are available at many food coops around the state in the bulk foods sections. The Abenaki flint cornmeal is is grown and milled at Songbird Farm in Unity, Maine. This cornmeal is packaged in 2 lb. bags and is available in many food coops as well.
The Pudding Mold:
Due to concerns over the chemicals such as bisphenol A used in can linings, Amaral recommends steaming the brown bread in a pudding mold rather than in tin cans which have been traditionally used for brown bread molds.