CAPE ELIZABETH — The first few days of summer mean local farmers will begin to open their fields for berry picking – just in time for the Cape Farm Alliance’s 10th annual Strawberry Festival.
With an exceptionally dry spring, Penny Jordan, of Jordan Farms, said strawberry season came early this year, meaning peak picking will land right around next week’s festival.
Maxwell Farm’s fields on Two Light Road and Jordan’s Farm at 21 Wells Road were scheduled to open for u-pick on June 21. Caitlin Jordan, of Alewive’s Brook Farm at 83 Old Ocean House Road, said they won’t open until Saturday, June 23 at the earliest, “depending on what the berries look like.”
This contrasts last year’s u-pick season, which didn’t begin until the Saturday of festival weekend, due to a cold and rainy spring.
Bill Bamford, of Maxwell Farms, said harvesting is about a week ahead of last year’s schedule.
While strawberries are made up mostly of water, too much moisture means an increased risk of mold or fungus.
“The good thing with the dry weather is, we can put on the water as we want to, but if it rains too much, that’s out of our control,” Bamford said. “The dry weather, as long as we water the plants enough, is a good thing.”
Although Bamford said he’s out in the fields tending to Maxwell Farms’ strawberry crop 10 months a year, it isn’t until late spring that farmers really see the “fruits of their labor.”
The strawberry season is short, but sweet, and lasts roughly three to four weeks from late June to late July.
The Cape Farm Alliance’s yearly celebration kicks off with a lobster bake and pig roast at 6 p.m. Friday, June 29, in the riding stables at Shady Oak Farms, accompanied by a silent auction and live music. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at capefarmalliance.org or in person at Alewive’s Brook Farm, Jordan’s Farm Market or The Farm Stand on Ocean Avenue in South Portland.
“This is such a wonderful community event,” Penny Jordan said. “A huge shout-out to the Strouts, who are willing to host it every year. It’s no small undertaking.”
The next morning, Maxwell Farms’ fields will be open to the public for live music, food and artisan vendors, children’s crafts and entertainment and some strawberry picking from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
“People really have an appreciation for growing and buying locally. We love seeing families out here … They’re always grateful,” Bamford said, reflecting on the past decade.
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.
“(The festival) is about so much more than the money; it’s the support,” Bamford said.
The Cape Farm Alliance, which began in 2007 as an ad hoc committee of the town, represents a wide array of agriculture concerns and more than 20 farms.
“We do whatever we can to put agriculture in front of the community,” Bamford said. “We work together. It’s very collaborative.”
Bill Bamford, of Maxwell Farms, checks out the strawberry harvest on Two Lights Road. The field opened for u-pick June 21, just a week before the Cape Farm Alliance’s 10th annual Strawberry Festival, June 29-30.