Almost everyone I went to middle school with had one of two summer jobs: lobster fishing or blueberry raking (these were jobs that, if you worked for family members, you could do before the age of 15). Since I wasn’t a huge success on the field, once I turned 16 I applied for work in one of the local blueberry factories.

As far as harvest season factory jobs go, I got the fairly “cushy” job of lab assistant. There were two or three quality control checkpoints total during a blueberries travel through the factory, but I worked at the final checkpoint, which was considered the most important since it was the packaging point.

Working in the lab meant I didn’t have to be out on the floor where it was loud and cold (the berries are flash frozen so…brr), lift heavy objects (which most women didn’t have to), or be out where the berries first get dumped and wade through all the spiders, sticks, and sometimes, snakes.

Harvest season at the factory meant the year-round employees mingled with the seasonal workers, who were usually high schoolers. The harvest season is usually about 5 weeks, and it can be stressful if the harvest starts too late (people have to go back to school- one year at my school in Milbridge, they pushed the school start date back due to a late harvest).

The factory runs day and night, 7 days a week. I worked the day shift, which was a 11-12 hour day, with no days off. It was incentivized though- if you came in all 7 days a week, you got an extra quarter an hour in your paycheck, and it only took 3 days to start earning overtime.

My job description was pretty interesting. The lab was its own isolated world to an extent, in that we didn’t get to mingle with the others on the floor. At the beginning of the day, the person running the floor (kind of a foreman I guess) would let the head lab person know what grower the berries were coming from (the factory owned land, private growers, or occasionally Prince Edward Island if their factory was full), and where they were going (there was a special code for each, like if they were going in the muffin packages or to another production plant in, say, Canada). . This might change several times over the course of the day or not at all for 3-4 days.

We had to run a test on every new pallet (I want to say this was 30 boxes, filled with 30 lbs of frozen berries) for temperature and a “huckleberry test” (more on that later).

At the start of a new set of pallets, we did a more extensive test called a Number One, where we tested for sugar levels, maggots (most of the time there weren’t any), and more huckleberry tests. All of these tests involved mashing blueberries.

It wasn’t a glamorous or exciting job, especially compared to the first half of the summer I worked at a local summer camp and was outside playing all day (more or less). Since the lab never got hectic and wasn’t as fast paced as the floor, the days could feel really long.

The first year, I spent a lot of time in my own head since I was the only lab assistant. I came up with a musical concept in which a Brad Pitt-type character (keep in mind this was 10 years ago and I’d just discovered Fight Club) is a forklift driver who falls in love with a… you guessed it, lab worker. The musical numbers included a tour of the floor, the picking line (where ladies sat on stool and picked out sticks etc from the berries), and a choreographed forklift scene (with no less than five forklifts). If anyone in the entertainment industry wants to pay me to write this, please leave a comment on this blog post as clearly it would be a passion project.

The second year of the blueberry factory for me, my brother and more of my high school friends joined me, so there were more shenanigans throughout the day to keep us occupied.  I also had another girl my age up in the lab with me, and we had a lot of inside jokes and nicknames for everyone. Since the lab was a separate room that looked over the factory floor, we made up conversations among the other workers, watched my brother and his friends have very brief dance competitions (these were frowned upon), and drew faces in the mashed berries.

One of the most interesting things about the factory was the culture and the people. While we went on our lunch breaks, we had another woman come in to cover for us. I don’t remember how it came up, but one day she told us about the “cabbits” her family used to have. A cabbit, for those of you who don’t know (and hopefully, that’s everyone) is a cat-rabbit hybrid. While she was pretty adamant that this had in fact really happened, I was pretty sure someone in her family had pulled one over on her, but after consulting my family members (who had gone to school with her), there may have been some cabbits running around Milbridge for a time (this is not actually a verifiable story, so take it as you will).

So now, the next time you are eating a blueberry pie at a local restaurant or blending those frozen blueberries in your smoothie, I hope you’ll think of me and all the blueberry factory workers in a choreographed musical number about the short, odd, and kind of beautiful Maine blueberry season.

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