For the past 150 years the Brodis family has been supplying customers on the Midcoast with native blueberries harvested on their property in Hope. From a garage on Buzzell Hill Road which serves as a storefront and sorting center for the berries, on Aug. 14 Gwen Brodis and her grandson, Jeremy Howard, reflected on this year's harvest, and how they have adapted with an ever-changing industry.

"The bees did a great job and we had a good yield this year, although the humidity can cause the berries to break down," said Howard, who spent the early morning hours of this day raking the fields before joining his grandmother, extended family members and friends sorting, weighing and packing fresh berries using a electric conveyor belt machine in the garage.

Gwen and her husband, Dick Brodis, began selling blueberries and apples in 1958 along Route 1 in Rockport, where Fresh Off the Farm now stands. Since then they moved their retail space for Brodis Blueberries to its current location out in Hope, to be closer to the fields they own on Jones Hill Road. Although there is a sign on Route 17 announcing their business and the family advertises, Gwen attributes much of their business and return customers to a word-of-mouth reputation that has been built over decades.

Joined by her grandchildren and their wives, Gwen stands alongside them at the conveyor belt, carefully removing unripened berries and and twigs or leaves from the line as the blueberries roll by and into boxes to be sold — an action she has performed countless times and performs with an accuracy which seems almost effortless, pausing to answer questions or chat with her companions. Asked if she had become tired of their taste, having been surrounded by the berries for years, Gwen was quick to respond.

"Oh no! I was just baking a blueberry pie this morning. They're a superfood, you know," she said, referring to the discovery years ago that blueberries are extremely high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties — benefits which over the past decade have branded them as a health food which has become increasingly desirable to consumers.

Native, low-bush blueberry fields such as those owned by Brodis produce a crop every other year. The fields must be either burned or flail-mowed (a process by which a tractor knocks the plants down with chains) the year following a harvest in order for the plants to regenerate and produce fruit. In order to have a crop each year, Howard explained that the family has certain properties which they will harvest one year while burning or flailing another parcel at the same time, thereby always having a field which is producing fruit.

Unlike the large, high-bush cultivated berries which are grown in states such as Michigan and are common at New England supermarkets, Maine's low-bush blueberries are much more flavorful, deeper in color and higher in antioxidants.

"These berries have many health benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties. The [native] blueberry plants have been here for 10,000 years, and clone themselves to deal with environmental issues. It's almost impossible to dig these plants up and try to replant them somewhere else — they've grown here because of this soil and the environment," explained Howard.

In the same manner in which the native blueberries have adapted with changing environmental conditions, farmers such as Howard and his family have been changing their growing and harvesting practices with the times. The business took a five-year hiatus from harvesting in 2008 to remove large rocks from some of their fields so that larger machines could be brought in to comb the ground and gather berries with an efficiency surpassing the traditional method of raking berries by hand.

A theme among crop owners in recent years has been to "go organic," a process by which fields are left to grow and not touched or harvested for at least three years. For now Gwen says she has no immediate plans to switch the fields to organic, but adds that the company does not use any oil on the fields when they are burned. The hay which is gathered on her property is also sold to nearby farms.

"You have to grow with the industry, with the times, and as a farmer you have to learn new techniques," said Howard. While Gwen worked at the sorting conveyor belt with her granddaughters-in-law and her other grandson, Jake Baker, a constant stream of customers arrived at the garage entrance to pick up containers of berries they had ordered in sizes up to 10 pounds from Howard.

Howard has recently begun exploring what he calls "value-added profit" sources for the business: ways to expand how the berries are used outside of as a traditional ingredient in baked goods and breakfast foods. He was recently approached by Andrew Stewart, owner of the Drouthy Bear pub in Camden, to produce a distilled, blueberry-based liquor which can be served to restaurant patrons. In the coming months Howard will be creating his first distilled product, a blueberry eau de vie, or brandy, and has set aside thousands of pounds worth of berries for the project.

Elsewhere on the property are vestiges of the farm's past — an original gas-powered winnowing machine which still operates and is used by Howard. Berries that were raked from the field are poured directly into the top of the machine and onto a rubber conveyor belt. As the berries move up the belt, a wooden mallet whirs into motion, serving as a fan. Wind from the fan blows leaves, twigs and berries which are small and green from the belt and into the air; the ripe berries stay on the belt and fall into a collection box.

"Sometimes the most tried-and true methods are the best," says Howard.

Back at the sorting table, Jake Baker recalls how his grandfather, Dick, made everyone feel like they were an integral part of the operation.

"Grandpa made everyone feel like they were part of it," said Baker, and recalled a large truck which the grandchildren called "Big Red," in which Brodis ferried them along each summer, delivering freshly picked berries or bales of hay to people in the community.

Everyone was smiling as the last of the season's berries were sorted and they shared memories from years past. This year, Gwen sponsored a girl from the community to compete in the Maine Wild Blueberry pageant at the Union Fair, a tradition that she and her husband supported for years.

Howard estimated that this year the family's harvest yielded approximately 200,000 lbs. of berries from their fields — which is "right where we want to be." But even if the season's crop had been less than what they had hoped for, it's doubtful that the spirits of the team on Buzzell Hill Rd. would be dimmed.

"It's always a good season when you're with family," said Baker.

Brodis Blueberries is located at 367 Buzzell Hill Rd. in Hope. Information about their products can be found at wildmaineblueberry.info