AUGUSTA, Maine — If you’re from Maine, you’ve likely experienced a holiday made up around food.
For nearly 40 years, Maine Maple Sunday has grabbed much attention, as snowed-in New Englanders look for reasons to get outside in early spring.
But for years, the blueberry has existed as a state staple less popularized by tourists.
Grown in Maine for 10,000 years, soon after glaciers receded, the bright berries were first harvested by members of the Wabanaki indigenous tribe. Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe currently run a blueberry operation in Columbia Falls.
Out of all the states that grow wild blueberries, Maine is the first place in the United States to witness the harvest season, Nancy McBrady, director of the Maine Bureau of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources, said.
The wild blueberry is the official berry of Maine.
Since 2011, blueberry pie has been the official state dessert — not to be confused with Maine's famous state treat, the whoopie pie.
Yet it took until 2021 for the first official "wild blueberry weekend" to be held in Maine.
On Friday, Governor Janet Mills officially proclaimed August 6 and 7 as wild blueberry weekend, ringing in the second celebration meant to drive so-called agro-tourism to farms across the state.
"As much as wild blueberries are unique and special to Maine, people might not really understand their story and why they’re so special," McBrady said. "And this weekend is meant to put a focus on our growers and the fruit itself."
She explained "wild" is a key word in the celebration. While she was quick to praise the state's other blueberry producers, wild blueberries are low-bush fruit, 12 to 15 inches high, and they’re grown, not planted like high-bush berries.
This year’s celebration includes 14 farms across the state, with farmers like Ashley Field happy to join. She said she's been welcoming tourists to her family farm, Fields Fields, long before the official weekend was proclaimed.
"Wild blueberries are a uniquely Maine product, so people come here. They want to experience wild blueberries; they want to see wild blueberries," she smiled. "And, it just gives us a niche market. Not only are the health benefits great and the taste — it's a unique experience. It's like visiting a vineyard in California."
While Field and her peers welcome tourism dollars, they’d be just as happy to get some rain on their doorstep. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center, more than half of the state faced "abnormally dry" of "moderate drought" conditions on Friday.
"On average, about an inch of water a week is what [blueberry bushes] need," McBrady said. "So, the farmers are starting to get a little anxious."
While 14 growers are participating in the official blueberry weekend, there are 480 wild blueberry farms farms spread throughout Maine.