ELLSWORTH — Maine wild blueberry growers have freezers filled with what is believed to be the second largest crop on record, and the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission is looking for buyers, among them public schools.
Although official numbers are not yet in, David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said the total harvest for 2016 could be 107 million pounds, based on state tax receipts.
“That would make it the second largest crop” since 1924, Yarborough said.
The largest wild blueberry crop on record is 110.6 million pounds in 2000.
In 2014, the yield was 104.4 million pounds, and, in 2015, 101.11 million pounds.
In the meantime, the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission has received a $50,000 grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to market wild blueberries for public school breakfast and lunch programs.
“Given that we have high supply of wild blueberries, the grant is well timed,” said Nancy McBrady, executive director of the commission.
She said the commission will create a special section on its website devoted to schools with suggestions for recipes — among them wild blueberry smoothies, wild blueberry parfaits, wild blueberry crisps and wild blueberry stuffed French toast, among others.
She said the funds also will be used to market wild blueberries at trade shows, conferences, anywhere where there might be buyers.
Public schools provide 30 million lunches and nearly 15 million breakfasts every day via the USDA National School Lunch Program and the USDA School Breakfast Program, McBrady said.
She said 114 million pounds of USDA frozen fruit, frozen vegetables and frozen orange juice were served in public schools in 2012.
Yet sales to schools of Maine wild blueberries, McBrady said, totaled only 500,000 pounds in 2015 and 1 million pounds in 2016.
“These funds will allow our industry to launch a significant marketing effort that promotes wild blueberries as an ideal school food,” she said.
USDA commodity foods are unprocessed or partially processed agricultural commodities purchased by the USDA and then made available for use in schools.
McBrady said she expects the marketing efforts to “deliver a measurable increase in sales and the creation of a stable market channel for the 510 wild blueberry growers and processors here in Maine.”
The Wild Blueberry School Foodservice marketing program will kick off at the same time as the USDA’s National School Breakfast Week in March.
Among wild blueberries’ selling points to schools, McBrady said, are that 1 pound of wild blueberries provides 25 percent more servings than the same weight of cultivated blueberries.