A small group of people stood above the Christmas Cove landing on Rutherford Island and scanned the brilliant blue waters. "There she is," a man said as he picked up a basket and walked down the gangway to greet the incoming boat.
The Beth Alison, a trim, 34-foot New Haven sharpie, glided silently into the landing. Within seconds, a young pony-tailed man lifted canvas awnings and secured them, then began unloading tin buckets brimming with fresh cut flowers.
Beneath an awning, David Berry, captain, organic farmer and marketer extraordinaire, rang an old brass school bell -- the same one, owned by his grandmother, that once summoned reluctant students into a Fall River, Massachusetts, classroom. Now it was used to alert islanders that the Merrymeeting Farm market boat had arrived and was ready for business.
Earning a living in an unusual way is nothing new for Berry. A Bowdoin graduate and a self-described "jack-of-all-trades," he has built homes, taught English in Italy, made maple sugar "till the sugar house burned down in 1976," harvested oysters in the Damariscotta River, went commercial fishing, worked on the cruise schooners on Penobscot Bay, and "always farmed a bit during the short Maine summers." That "bit" of farming has evolved and grown, and keeps both Berry and his talented wife Alison busy year round.
In the 1950s, Berry joined his family's poultry business at Merrymeeting Farm; the land had been settled by his family in the 1930s. In the early days, he conducted a "carriage trade of chicken and eggs," delivering to customers in Boothbay and Christmas Cove.
Today, Berry and his wife tend 2 1/2 acres of crops, two greenhouses for tomatoes, and continue the family poultry operation that supplies restaurants and health food stores. As if that weren't enough, Alison makes jams and puts up pickles and chutneys, and supplies an array of fresh-baked goods. Her sticky buns, known far and wide, are one of the most popular products the market boat sells.
How does such an earthbound enterprise end up on the ocean? "In the 1980s, the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath asked me to store a boat in my barn," said Berry.
It was a wonderful, roomy, stable workboat, originally used for harvesting oysters on Long Island Sound. "I took one look at her," Berry said, "and told them 'I should be storing that for you in the river, not the barn’."
They then struck a deal. "She is a perfect vessel," David Berry said, "my first and last boat." For the past 15 summers, the Berrys and several neighboring farmers and friends have kept the boat stocked with produce.