HOME-GROWN BLUEBERRY HARVESTERS

Acadian Machine Works patented walk-behind machines fill a gap in the marketplace

Wild blueberries weren’t a commodity that were readily apparent when the first settlers arrived in PEI, despite the crop being native to this Island for over 10,000 years. When brush fires ravaged fields after settlers cleared the land and left the landscape seemingly barren, the small berries—rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin—came back in the following year to offer a bumper crop that was even more bountiful than before. 

Traditionally, wild blueberry harvesting has been a back-breaking job, using manual labour—literally on one’s hands and knees—to rake the berries off the low-growing bushes.

In the heart of Tignish lies a business that has carved out a niche for itself within the wild blueberry industry, creating labour-saving mechanical harvesters. Opened in 1974 by James Doucette, Acadian Machine Works has been serving the fishing and farming sector of Tignish and the western area of PEI ever since.

James Doucette showing a blueberry harvester designed to be pulled behid a tractor
Photo credit: Richard Schroeter/Salty

Doucette, a native of Tignish, PEI, left for work in Montreal in 1960 as a young man. After meeting his wife there, and working and living in both Montreal and Vancouver, James came back to PEI and opened his machine shop. James eventually enlisted the machinist and metalworking skills of his two sons, Kevin and Marc, and making it a true family business, the friendly faces of his wife and daughter, Ann and Lori (respectively) in the office. 

In the 1990s, Doucette was approached by a local blueberry farmer asking him to produce blueberry hand rakes. This eventually led Kevin and Marc to expand their product line to include push carts and walk-behind harvesters, which they patented in 2006. The push carts are manually operated but allow the user to stand upright and walk behind the cart while harvesting berries, eliminating the need to crouch or kneel.

The walk-behind harvesters are also made of aluminum and are gentle on the berries, causing little damage to the crop. With a six-speed transmission and a reverse gear, they are easy to maneuver, and between one and two acres can be harvested per day, depending on crop size. Their compact design allows for transportation in a pickup truck, and Acadian Machine Works’ decision to use non-proprietary parts means a farmer can pick up replacement parts at most hardware stores.

A walk-behind manual harvester
Photo credit: Richard Schroeter/Salty

Next, in 2009, came the company’s creation of transportable blueberry cleaning lines. For some blueberry farmers this innovation made all the difference in their production. This is another machine that is easily transportable in the flatbed of a half-ton truck, and can be powered by a 110v generator. It is ideal for the small to midsize grower looking to tap into the fresh market. Line cleaners can be modified upon ordering to fit growers’ requirements (i.e.: keep only large berries, or small, etc). Berries can be both harvested and cleaned in the field, reducing the steps needed to bring them to market. With this model, producers are able to sell their berries to packaging facilities or to the public at an increased profit of up to 450%, according to local blueberry production company Wyman’s.

Marc Doucette (l) and James Doucette (r) show off their wild blueberry cleaning line
Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Line cleaners have been sold within the Maritimes, Quebec, British Columbia, and Maine. Terry Nabuurs, owner of Terry’s Berries and The Wheelhouse in Georgetown, bought a cleaning line in 2016, “When I was looking to expand my farming operation, I was really hoping to support local craftspeople in doing so,” Nabuurs said. “I was very happy to find out that Acadian Machine Works was building such a quality machine that allowed us the freedom to process our own crop and sell it ourselves here on PEI. We are very happy with the product and would highly recommend the work that they do.”

Marc Doucette said that getting into blueberry harvesting products was as simple as listening to what the locals were looking for and filling a hole in the market, “See a need, fill a need.” 

Chanelle Doucette, is the proud granddaughter of James Doucette.

About Chanelle Doucette

Chanelle Doucette grew up in Tignish, PEI. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of Canada in 2011. Now a red seal chef, she has worked at various restaurants in PEI as cook or pastry chef, including The Dundee Arms and the Wheelhouse in Georgetown. She was recently named Head Chef at Redwater Rustic Grille in Charlottetown, PEI.

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