Short, sweet season arrives for Cape Elizabeth strawberry farmers
CAPE ELIZABETH — As local farmers gear up for the fourth annual Strawberry Festival from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, this year's berry crop is expected to be both abundant and fleeting.
"It is fun to see someone walking about with a big tray of strawberries and a big grin on their face," Maxwell's Farm owner Bill Bamford said.
Called "the Strawberry King" by Penny Jordan of William H. Jordan Farm, Bamford and his wife, Lois, are in their 39th season of growing berries on 11 acres of fields along Bowery Beach and Two Lights roads.
The Bamfords host the free festival at their Two Lights Road field, where visitors can enjoy a wide range of strawberry delicacies, live music, tractor rides and games for children. There will also be hot-air balloon rides beginning at 9 a.m.
Jordan said her crop, grown on three acres off Wells Road, was available for picking June 8 and will be gone in the next couple of weeks.
Once picking is done, Bamford and Jordan said replanting begins, a process delayed this year by steady rains throughout the month.
A warm winter and early spring helped the current strawberry crops flourish, but Bamford and Jordan said the recent wet weather has taken a toll.
"The ebbs and flows of spring kind of confused the plants, they don't know what to do," Jordan said.
Bamford said picking at his fields has shifted back and forth from Two Lights to Bowery Beach roads as he assesses which plants are ripening and which need more time to mature.
"I think it is going to be a short season anyway," he said.
Strawberries are the primary crop grown by the Bamfords, and once mature, each patch has a three-year lifespan at best. The Bamfords rotate crops through five fields to ensure annual harvests, but a delay in replanting can be a source of some worry, he said.
Bamford added his crops are not cultivated with long-distance marketing in mind.
"It's local, and there are no strawberries like Maine strawberries," he said. "They are not bred to be shipped halfway across the country."
Picking season, whether brief or extended from year to year, is also something of a reunion for the Bamfords.
'We have friends we see once a year in the strawberry field, a regular base of people who come," Bamford said. "The idea of growing food for someone to eat is pretty, pretty cool."
Jordan said the festival, sponsored by the Cape Farm Alliance, should be viewed as the first chance visitors have to see the variety and abundance of what Cape Elizabeth farms produce.
"We are all working toward a 12-month business," she said.