It’s June in York County, a time when locals begin surveying the back roads of Sanford looking for a sign of the times. White roadside signboards featuring a single, ginormous strawberry and an arrow pointing the way to Lavigne’s Strawberry Farm are the annual herald that berry-picking season has begun. 

Q: When was Lavigne’s Strawberry Farm founded?

A: About 33 years ago by three brothers, Albert, Patrick and Michael Lavigne, who started the operation on about 40 acres of their own farmland, to which they added another 60 acres a few years later. According to Albert, it took about 10 years to turn a profit. But the business is quite successful now. 

Q: What is your job there?

A: I’m a neighbor who’s been helping out during harvest season for the past 40 years. I mainly help run the sales shed and tell folks where to pick. 

Q: How many workers?

A: Just four, myself and the Lavignes. 

Q: Is this a retail or wholesale business?

A: It’s exclusively a pick-your-own operation. 

Q: When does the season begin?

A: For us, it started this week. The crop was a little late because of the wet, cold weather this spring. 

Q: How long does the season last?

A: Usually 18 to 23 days. 

Q: Are the strawberries purchased by quart or pint?

A: By the pound. We also sell the containers both in quart size or a flat, which is a container that holds (about six quarts of strawberries). 

Q: What do you do with the excess at the end of season?

A: We leave them. There really isn’t much left. Customers pick about 85 percent to 90 percent of the crop. 

Q: How big is the property?

A: 100-plus acres. But it is not all (dedicated to growing) strawberries. We’ve got 12 acres of strawberry fields and six acres of blueberry beds, which we also sell now. Much of the property is used to grow a winter cover crop of rye to insulate and protect the plants during winter. We use about 3,000 bales of rye for that process. 

Q: What’s the process for strawberry farming?

A: We remove the rye covering in late spring, fertilize, weed and irrigate as needed. And we plant a new crop to replace some of the plants. That takes about seven or eight weeks. At the end of each picking season, we cut the strawberry plants back to about four or five inches high to allow the mother plant to put out runner (vines) to establish new plants. We fertilize them and, in November, we cover them with rye (straw) again to winter over. 

Q: How long do strawberry plants live?

A: They produce a good crop for three to four years. After that, they yield smaller and less fruit. So we plow them under and plant new ones. And we don’t get any strawberries from new plants during the first year. That’s why we rotate the crop each year from alternate fields. We always offer customers three to harvest from and leave one to start a new crop in. 

Q: How big are the strawberry fields or beds?

A: We’ve got about 17,000 strawberry plants per four-acre bed. 

Q: What’s the best way to store strawberries?

A: The berries will keep for about one week if you leave them in the bottom of the fridge in the basket they came in. They like to breathe. So don’t put them in plastic, because it makes them sweat and spoil faster. Hull and wash them only when you’re ready to eat them because they will absorb the water. 

Q: Tell me about your blueberry crop. How’s that going?

A: Very well. That is a pick-your-own operation too. This is our fourth year offering them. We planted them five years ago. They are high-bush berries (larger than the low-bush variety). 

Q: When will they be ready for picking?

A: Roughly, around the 20th of July. 

Q: How long does blueberry-picking season last?

A: About four weeks.