CARIBOU, Maine — Circle B Farms in Caribou is open for the season like never before, with a brand new blueberry packing shed that will help the farm freeze and store its produce for distribution.
Owner Sam Blackstone has been growing Circle B Farms since the first 750 blueberry bushes were planted back in 1985, but the push for a new packaging house came with the federal passage of a new Food Modernization Act.
“Our frozen product is now considered processed, as opposed to packaged, so that means we have to fall under the processing rules,” Blackstone told members of the Caribou City Council during their July 14 meeting.
The city worked closely with Blackstone to successfully obtain a United States Department of Agriculture Community Development Block Grant to assist with creation of the new packaging house, which is anticipated to be around $221,000. The City of Caribou applied for the CDBG grant, which the council voted to approve during the July 14 meeting, and the resulting $25,000 in federal grant funds will be used to install a septic system and a driveway for the new packing shed.
Blackstone hires around 75 people during the four- to five-week window for picking blueberries, and he’s hoping to be able to hire one or two full-time employees with the new 2,800-square foot packing shed.
That’s outstanding, considering the experts told Blackstone in 1985 that blueberries wouldn’t grow in this area.
“So like a typical County guy, I just went out and did it,” he recalled.
Growing blueberries in an area where they supposedly shouldn’t grow has developed an interesting twist to the fruit.
“Everyone says we have a better flavor,” Blackstone said with a smile. Gesturing to another plot of berries on the easat bank of the Aroostook River, he was confident in announcing that 40 percent of those bushes would produce blueberries the size of a quarter.
From those first 750 bushes to the farm’s current 10,000 bush figures, Blackstone said that Circle B Farms is almost to the point where they might not be able to continuing hand-picking berries for their commercial distribution. Reaching the point where the farm purchased a mechanical harvester and built a dedicated packing shed wasn’t in Blackstone’s plans 20 years ago, particularly since the fruit isn’t supposed to grow up here in the first place, but he hasn’t stopped planting.
Whether it’s due to his “County guy” tenacity or his deep-seated farming heritage, he keeps pushing the boundaries as to what can be grown north of 46 degrees north latitude. He has cherry trees, pear trees and around 600 apple trees — including those of the transparent apple kind.
“You can’t find them at the grocery store anymore,” Blackstone described. “They have a yellow-greenish type flesh and if you just look at them, they’ll bruise,” he added. “The only way you’re going to get a transparent that’s not bruised, is to eat it within 15 feet of the tree … but you’ll never find a better tasting apple than picking a fresh transparent right off the tree and eating it right then and there.”
Blackstone is passionate about feeding the region while providing some decent jobs to the local folks — but to say he loves his job is inaccurate.
“I don’t have a job,” he said. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Circle B Farms is open for the season and is located at 290 East Presque Isle Road.