CIW, Food for Maine’s Future join forces for Maine’s 2012 blueberry harvest…

Maine’s family farm movement, Florida’s farmworker movement work together to build bridge between local community and farmworkers in rural Maine

Maine has many claims to fame — delicious lobsters, breathtaking landscapes and majestic rocky coastlines chief among them — but for many, the state’s short-bush blueberry harvest is first and foremost on the list of things that make Maine one of this country’s most beautiful states. The children’s classic Blueberries for Sal has introduced millions of young people to the charms of the state’s late summer berry bounty, raising the wild-growing fruit to almost mythic proportions.

But, as with many myths, the reality can be even more interesting than the legend. And the reality is that most Maine blueberries are harvested today by crews that have traveled the length of the map from the fields of Florida to the forests of the Pine Tree State at the northernmost stop along the East Coast migrant stream. And this year, a delegation from the CIW traveled that same route, too, invited by allies with the state’s small farmer movement, Food for Maine’s Future.

Food for Maine’s Future “seeks to build a just, secure, sustainable and democratic food system to the benefit of all Maine’s farmers, fisheries, communities, and the environment.” In recognition of their years of hard work toward the realization of that vision, Food for Maine’s Future received the 2012 World Hunger Year Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award. And this past spring, one of FMF’s founders, small farmer and fair food activist Bob St. Peter (right), joined CIW members and allies in Lakeland for the Fast for Fair Food, fasting all six days with the core fasting crew.

So when Food For Maine’s Future invited us to join them in reaching out to Maine’s seasonal farmworker community during this season’s blueberry harvest, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. A small delegation from the CIW headed north last week and, together with Bob and other Blue Hill area family farmers (including the incredible Retberg family that runs Quills End Farm in Penobscot), we immediately set about organizing a community/farmworker dinner at an old Grange hall in town. When a week later over 75 people walked through the door, the vast majority of them Florida farmworkers, the dinner was a huge success. A delicious, fresh meal from Bob’s farm set the tone for an evening of community building, and the gathering sowed the seeds for an even closer relationship in the years to come, as many of the blueberry workers make the trip to Maine year after year.

In between outreach efforts, the CIW delegation lent its labor to local farms throughout the week, including a misty morning of blueberry harvesting (above) with the crew pictured at the top of this post, who had made their way to Maine from Ft. Pierce, Florida. Though the professional blueberry crew outpaced the CIW members in raw output, the CIW’s years of experience in the watermelon harvest ensured that they didn’t embarrass themselves too badly, and won them an invitation to return next season to harvest berries in earnest.

Keep an eye on this unique collaboration of small farmers and farmworkers in the years ahead. When two groups like Food for Maine’s Future and the CIW join together to fight for fundamental change in a food system that has undervalued labor for generations — whether that labor is provided by a farmworker or the owner of a family-run farm — they form a force that must be reckoned with.