As customers drive up to Crabtree’s Pick-Your-Own Blueberries in Sebago, Colby greets them enthusiastically. Part Wheaton terrier, part chow, the fluffy friendly dog takes his job seriously, offering service with what you’d swear was a smile.

And once these visitors have grabbed blue tin pails off hooks on the side of the shed, owner Alan Crabtree gives them instructions: “We have strict rules. You must eat blueberries while you pick.”

For Crabtree, sampling the plump, juicy berries is a requirement – part of the tradition of blueberry picking that turns the job into an event.

“Alan is unique because he encourages people to make blueberry picking a family outing – an adventure,” said neighbor Mary Stitzel. “This isn’t your ordinary blueberry patch – it’s sophisticated. It’s a really great atmosphere in a sophisticated patch.”

But what makes a blueberry patch sophisticated?

Is it the four varieties of blueberries Crabtree grows – Bluecrop, Berkley, Jerseys, and Elliots – each ripening at a different time? Or the drip irrigation system he installed last year that carries water to each of his 1,500 bushes?

Maybe it’s the rigorous pruning the bushes undergo every year or the fact that no pesticides are used.

But perhaps the patch’s real sophistication comes from its well-traveled, well-read owners.

Alan and his wife Penny have lived in many different places in their 25 years of marriage as his job as an environmental consultant for a Chicago firm allows him to work from home.

But the couple has another occupation as well.

“We discovered we both had the same incurable disease,” Alan said. “We both love to read and collect books.”

Over the years, this mutual hobby turned into a business and eventually the two opened their first bookstore in Michigan.

When they moved to New Hampshire, they trucked thousands of volumes with them. And when they moved to California, once again, they hauled their books.

But in 1994, their business, Crabtree’s Collection Old Books, moved to the Internet. And, in 1998, after they asked their customers to recommend a place to live, the couple moved to Sebago.

They were looking for a barn to house their entire inventory but they weren’t in the market for blueberries when they discovered their current home.

“I have 35,000 books stored in the barn,” Alan said, laughing. “The blueberries just kind of came with the place.”

They had agreed to allow the previous owner rights to the blueberry crop for the first three years they owned their new home.

And, watching her pick bushels of berries in the hot August sun (blueberries should be harvested midday after the dew has evaporated) helped Alan reach a conclusion about the future operation of his blueberry patch.

“I’m not that industrious,” he decided. “Let’s do pick-your-own.”

His decision has proven to be a good one for all concerned. He enjoys the guests that come pick and they enjoy the picking.

Many of the guests are local, returning year after year, but Alan receives e-mail from all over this country and Europe from people wanting to know when the berries will be ripe so they can plan their vacations around them.

Just last Saturday, the amount of blueberries picked from the patch reached the two-ton mark and Alan believes there’ll be enough Elliots (the late season variety) to pick until frost.

Although Alan is kept busy with his blueberries, along with the consulting and the book business, he also manages to write for two newspapers and serves the town of Sebago as both a selectman and as a volunteer firefighter.

Shortly, he will be one of six volunteers from the Sebago Fire Department traveling south with the Red Cross to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Now that’s sophisticated.

Customers David and Linda Maul from Long Island, New York pay owner Alan Crabtree for their bucket of blueberries. Crabtree

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