As early in the season as July, acres of Down East Maine are blanketed with a bounty of blue. Here lies the heart of the nation's harvest of wild blueberries, and at Merrill Blueberry Farms it's where the best of yesterday and today come together.

A three-week period in the height of Maine's summer is when the berries sport the deep blue color that characterizes them.

Clumps of low bush in open, ledgy fields give the signal. With only a few weeks to harvest the annual crop, the employee count at Merrill balloons from 12 to 600. Rakers inhabit the land and even the largest fields (around 100 acres) are harvested in a week's time. Smaller lots are completed in a day.

Merrill Farms harvests their own fields and those of local growers across Maine's Waldo, Penobscot and Hancock counties. Fields are strung off and separated into sections, and rakers employ short-handled metal rakes to comb through the bush. Raking is difficult and often hot work, but for many families it is an annual tradition engaged in for decades. Per-box pay is an equation of effort, speed and clean raking. For rakers, Merrill's fields promise a profusion of thick blueberry bushes and few weeds.

The winnower, a machine utilized right on the field removes the extraneous material. A stream of air across the top removes leaves while heavier twigs and foreign berries drop to the bottom. Acceptable berries are deposited into the chute.

Berries travel across the conveyor belt where they are winnowed a second time and are then deposited into water for cleaning. Next, berries are sent through a tunnel where they are Individually Quick Frozen by a cryogenic system that allows the freezing of over 10,000 pounds per hour. The Merrills pioneered the use of the IQF system in 1953, and since then it has been allowing fast preservation of taste and nutrition for millions of berries. The surge of activity at harvest time means berries are processed and frozen fast, and with the IQF method, they can remain frozen for over two years and maintain all their nutritional quality. For Merrill Farms, freezing means meeting distribution demands and losing none of the berries' taste or nutrition in the process.

A laser color sorter detects anything that is not blue, and green berries, chokecherries and foreign materials are separated into a bin. Four belts run the berries through the packing room, where a meticulous final inspection is made leaving only the best of the best.
The winnower in the field. The washing process. Latest laser sorter technology.

Quality control implementation makes this age-old industry an airtight business with a quality-first bottom line. A USDA inspector on site means that their product is USDA approved, HACCP (Quality Control-Audit Inspections) programs are ongoing at Merrill Farms, and a member of the current generation of Merrills oversees all processes along the way.

Merrill has the capability of storing twelve million pounds of frozen wild blueberries. Customers remove product from the Merrill plant even during harvest. Berries are packaged in 30 lb. and 10 lb. cartons and stored in a warehouse freezer at -20ºF.

Over the years, Merrill Blueberry Farm has experienced increased production and improved harvesting techniques, and has demonstrated an unsurpassed ability to give you the best box, the best carton, the best product, the best berry. In fact, when you enjoy a wild Merrill blueberry in the middle of winter, you are not far removed from their Maine field.

Tried and true quality and experience in providing a superior product to manufacturers and consumers is their way of joining forces with nature. The blueberry has been a gift to the Merrill family and they have made it their gift to you.