JONESPORT — A new blueberry packing plant, the first berry processing facility in the town’s history, will be erected by mid-June in the Mason Bay district, if the Planning Board approves a building permit Wednesday, March 20. The fresh-pack plant would employ about 12 people.
Dr. Robert Massucco of Jonesport and Mount Desert Island said his “Packing Shed No. 5” should be ready by late July to begin conveying fresh berries harvested from his adjacent berry fields. The 80-by-30-foot wood-framed building would be the fifth packing shed to process blueberries for Maine Fresh-Pack Co-op.
The cooperative has a central plant in Machias. Other packing sheds are owned individually by Robert MacCloud of Columbia, Verrill Worcester of Columbia, Herbert Hanscom of Marshfield and Stevie Lions of Great Pond Plantation in the Milford area.
Massucco said his plant would be managed by Harold Hubbard, a neighbor who also is designer-builder of Hubbard blueberry rakes. Lois Hubbard will be the plant’s bookkeeper.
A first-year goal for Packing Shed No. 5 would be to pack 50 tons of fresh blueberries for MFPC. “We are going to work hard to pack 100,000 pounds. We want to put 50 percent of my crop into fresh-pack this year,” he said. Of the 330,000 pints marketed by the cooperative last year, Shaw’s Supermarkets bought 120,000 of those units. Massucco berries would be the primary berries processed this year in the plant.
Soil tests have been completed for the plant to be constructed in a field on the south side of Route 187. The plant’s foundations are laid out on land a few feet south of Massucco’s house that was formerly owned by Melvin Donovan Sr. of Jonesport. The ends of the rectangular-shaped plant would run north and south.
“I want this plant to be a model for the cooperative,” he said. The most modern methods and machinery will be featured. “We want several other growers to build similar operations so that we can meet the growing demand for our product.”
Cold-storage facilities, refrigeration capabilities, and loading and unloading docks have been designed to be compatible with other buildings in the rural residential community. The plant’s exterior would feature rough clapboard siding. The parking lot would accommodate six or eight vehicles of workers during the peak processing period next August.
“I believe we are getting very close to building a freezer,” Massucco said. Several sources within the blueberry industry have mentioned the need for additional facilities to individually quick-freeze fresh blueberries to preserve the maximum quality and freshness of the fruit. Three companies in Washington County have freezer plants, but those plants and other alternate freezers outside of the county were inadequate to process the crop as fast as it was harvested.
Many field crews of harvesters missed more than a week of the normal six-week season because packing plants and freezers were glutted by the 1990 crop. If the 1991 crop lives up to early expectations, there may be even deeper work stoppages.