CAPE ELIZABETH — The first day of summer normally means the strawberry season is well underway.
But this year’s cold and rainy spring is preventing farmers from opening their fields to the public.
Members of the Cape Farm Alliance have their eyes on the weather forecast this week as they prepare for the ninth annual Strawberry Festival, Friday-Sunday.
“The problem is, if you let people into the field too early, they can damage all of the plants (by stomping) all over them, then you had one shot and it’s done and there are no berries to come,” said the alliance’s Caitlin Jordan of Alewive’s Brook Farm, who is also a town councilor. “So you usually want to wait until the berries are all ripened and you get those first few batches out (until) you let the public in.”
According to Jordan, a lot of rain isn’t good for the crop. Because they use very few chemicals, such as herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, on their berries, weeds grow in the fields more quickly, and the berries run a higher risk of growing mold or fungus in wet conditions.
On Monday afternoon, Jordan was hopeful that the skies would stay clear and the rain predicted during the week would hold off.
The harvest at this point in the year isn’t “as thick” as the alliance would like for the festival, scheduled every year for the fourth weekend of June. Maxwell’s Farm opened its fields for u-pick on June 25 the past two years.
Jordan said she is confident there will be pre-picked strawberries available for purchase this weekend, but there is a “high probability” that the fields won’t be open to the public by Saturday.
This has only been the case once before since the annual festival began.
“We still want people to come out to the festival because there is so much else to do,” Jordan said.
The festival opens with a lobster bake and pig roast Friday evening in the riding stables at Shady Oak Farms, accompanied by a silent auction and live music by Downeast Soul Coalition. Tickets for the dinner have already sold out, ensuring that attendance Friday night won’t be an issue.
On Saturday morning, Maxwell’s Strawberry Field on Two Lights Road will be open to the public for live music, food and artisan vendors, children’s crafts and entertainment and, hopefully, some strawberry picking.
“Right now, we’re basing things day-by-day on how hot the temperature is,” Jordan said. “Nicer days like today will ripen the berries faster.”
The Cape Farm Alliance represents a wide array of agriculture, and more than 20 farms.
Proceeds from the festival will support the alliance’s mission of boosting the economic viability and sustainability of Cape Elizabeth’s farming community by teaching the importance of agricultural assets and the role the community plays in preserving them.
“We’re all working together,” Jordan said. “(There’s) very cooperative farming throughout the community.”
Rows of strawberries at Maxwell’s Strawberry Field in Cape Elizabeth slowly ripen Monday, June 29, with threatening rain clouds in the distance. The Cape Farm Alliance’s annual Strawberry Festival is this weekend, although u-pick strawberries may be limited because of cold, rainy spring weather delayed the crop.
Town Councilor and Cape Farm Alliance head Caitlin Jordan passes out cotton candy at last year’s Strawberry Festival.