Strawberry fields endeavor: Sweet season arrives just in time at Cape Elizabeth u-pick farm
CAPE ELIZABETH — Talk about close calls.
The town's annual Strawberry Festival is Friday and Saturday, but Maxwell's Farm didn't have ripe berries until Thursday.
Farm owners Bill and Lois Bamford said the just-in-time opening date for people to pick their own strawberries actually isn't out of the ordinary.
"We're opening the 25th and we opened the 25th last year," Lois Bamford said. "It's normal, but people think it's late."
Bamford said their 11 acres of harvestable fields in the Two Lights area have had some ripe berries over the past couple of weeks, but not enough to open.
"In order to open to the public you need a massive amount," she said.
Bill Bamford said picking season usually lasts for about three weeks, and is dependent on the weather.
"We live and die by the weather," he said.
Bill Bamford said if the temperatures are in the mid-70s to low-80s during the day, picking season will last a few weeks. If it's too hot, though, the season will be shorter.
"You start bumping up into the 90s, and have warm nights, (the strawberries) go faster," he said.
While the Bamfords said they expect between 2,000 and 4,000 people to attend the Strawberry Festival, they said a normal day of picking brings several hundred people.
"It's not crowded," Bill Bamford said. "We have large fields."
He said more people come when the weather is nice, not only because it's enjoyable to be outside, but because it means the berries will be better.
"If you wake up and say it's a great day to go to the beach, it's a great day to pick strawberries," he said.
Maxwell's Farm first started letting people pick their own strawberries in 1973. The Bamfords said people are drawn to strawberries in a way that's not seen with blueberries or raspberries.
"There's something about strawberries," Bill Bamford said. "There's a love affair with strawberries and I can't explain it."
He also said people like picking the berries themselves, especially because it's the first opportunity to harvest something after winter. He said the type of customer, however, has changed over the years.
People used to pick their own berries because of the reduced price: a quart of picked berries is about $4, depending on the weight, whereas buying a pre-picked quart is $7.
But the Bamfords said people's motivations have now shifted.
"A lot of our customers are now looking for an experience," Bill Bamford said.
He said people are interested in picking berries as a family and teaching their children about farming. He said people also like knowing where their food is coming from.
"The 'buy local' thing is huge," he said.
Despite people's love for strawberries, Lois Bamford said people don't pick them all and there are always berries left over for farm workers to pick.
Bill Bamford said it's tricky to say how well the farm will do in a season because of the many variables.
"You have to take an unknown supply and an unknown demand and make it come out right," he said, paraphrasing Lois' father, Ken Maxwell, the previous owner of the farm.
Maxwell's Farm is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m., but the Bamfords said people should call their strawberry hotline at 799-3383 before coming to pick berries because the hours sometimes change.
"As long as we have berries that are ripened," Bill Bamford said, "we'll be open for business."