July | 2015
July 21, 2015 — Today my travels take me up North Coastal Route 1, through Ellsworth, Bar Harbor and then Columbia Falls, Maine. Through the corner of my eye in Columbia Falls, I spot this blue building and then notice that the sign in front is written in Spanish. Needless to say, my foot hits the brakes and then I pull in to see if anyone is home.
Here is what I found out: La Misión Migrante Ministerios coordinates visits by mission teams to different camps around Washington County Maine where migrant workers come to help. Some camps are located miles deep in the wilderness of the blueberry barrens.
The blueberry season for Down East Maine usually begins around the end of July and lasts for most of August. Workers travel from as far away as the Caribbean and South America to earn a wage by raking the Maine wild blueberries. Unlike Rhode Island blueberries, Maine wild berries grow close to the ground and not on bushes. Also, the blueberry plants are not planted and cultivated, they grow naturally when the land is prepared properly.
After they are picked, the blueberries are processed in local factories during the harvest season. Excess berries are frozen and processed during off season. Workers in factories handling frozen blueberries have the opportunity for work for well beyond the actual harvest season.
I speak with someone who points me toward Route 193N toward Deblois, Maine, not far off from where I am on Route 1. This road takes me up to the blueberry picking and processing plant of Wyman's of Maine, which distributes frozen blueberries and fresh juice year round, around the world.
As I drive north on Route 193, to my left I can see fields and fields of beautiful green plants (below) being watered by automatic sprinklers. I assume these are the blueberry plants.
On the right side, just past the fields, I find these bright blue huts (I assume they are painted so to match the color of the berries), which I was told housed the migrant workers during their stay in Maine (see below).
These small houses remind me of those provided to migrant workers in California who pick strawberries, grapes and lettuce. Unlike those, however, the grounds here seem clean and the outhouses newly painted.
The huts are lined up on a large field behind trees facing the road in rows and rows, side by side.
According to Migrant Ministries, every summer thousands of migrant workers come to Maine for the annual blueberry harvest. Most of these workers live in camps built and operated by local blueberry growers, such as Wyman's.
The Migrant Ministries program coordinates visits by mission teams to different camps around Washington County Maine. Some camps are located miles deep in the wilderness of the blueberry barrens. These camps house a variety of workers from different countries; Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala tend to represent the majority of Latin American workers. The blue building I saw on Route 1 was a house of worship, which serves mainly the Spanish speaking camps.
Down East Maine is also home to Wreaths Across America. Known as the "world's largest supplier of Christmas wreaths," workers here create wreaths and other greenery products for mail order. It is safe to say that many hundreds of thousands of wreaths are shipped from Washington County (aka Down East) Maine during the months of November and December, and migrant workers are also needed to work these factories.
I find myself more and more surprised and impressed at how many Latinos are living in this section of America, all looking for peace, stability and just plain old work. Again, I wonder how do they survive the frigid winters?