Agritourism is when a production farm attracts and invites public guests to the farm for a fee in exchange for an experience and/or farm fresh goods. Agritourism is a fairly new, wonderful income generator for family farms and provides a much needed service to the general public that has become disconnected from the source of their food. I am proud of these farmers and their families as they welcome droves of people seeking connections to farms for an unforgettable experience. More than 600 known agritourism venues can be found in our state contributing to our #1 and #2 industries, Agriculture and Tourism, respectively. As a farmer, aside from the very rare out of state corn maze, pumpkin patch, or state fair, you can understand why agritourism doesn’t have much of a draw for me. Nonetheless, in celebration of the ending of a u-pick season and our recent Independence Day, I happened upon an advertisement for a local u-pick blueberry patch charging only $5 per vehicle to get in and pick free blueberries….if you could find them. Ha. Challenge accepted.
Happy Holidays, and National Blueberry Month
Due to the date, time, weather, and holiday, I was able to go head first into this adventure with a clear and open mind and few expectations other than some solitude, fun, and quality time spent. I talked my big farmer into joining me for a few hours of togetherness. I can report that my experience was not surprising and completely enjoyable.
At twenty minutes after open, the line to turn in the drive was already backed up an entire car’s length. Excellent. These farmers have a good social following. The parking lot was a quarter full and there were people everywhere, but I think that was more because it wasn’t quite hot and they were moving around. We were able to park quickly and choose a row to begin, each of us with a gallon feed pail in hand. It was a first-time experience for me to stand next to a blueberry bush that was a little bigger than me, a testament to the effort and inputs these farmers had poured into their crops. Wonderful.
The Targeted Harvest
And then there were berries. They were definitely not the size that we buy in the huge chain grocery stores, but at least the size of the end of your pinky finger. And they tasted the same and better, when you plucked the ones that were actually blue and not half blue and green on the side you couldn’t see. Several other (quite young) patrons kept exclaiming, “Here’s a big one!” Either we didn’t get to get any of those, or our size scales differed. Afterall, we are by no means blueberry experts.
Another Chapter for a Great Story
I reached way down between the branches and squatted down below the shrubs to reach morsels that both the birds and the typical visitors had missed. Then I turned to my big farmer and said to him “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk. That’s the sound of blueberries in my bucket.” He gently snorted to me as he was arm deep in the next bush. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the children’s story “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McClosky. More than a decade ago my big tiny farmer would often pull that story off of the shelf for me to read. While I loved the premise of the story, the book never turned me on with it’s rather muted illustrations and while it had rhythm the words were hard to read. However, we often find ourselves saying “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk,” around the farm to this day….so I guess Mr. McClosky knew what he was writing.
We worked our way diligently down our row until the kerplink, kerplank, and kerplunk had ceased. Then I turned to my big farmer and said to him, “It sure is noisy here.” He gently snorted to me from under the next bush over. The blueberry patch was quite different from my hours of solitude at dawn spent in the garden and the greenhouse. Many families had come out to celebrate this last opportunity to pick. Babies cried and young voices hollered and lady voices had girlfriend conversations half a patch away. Fellas even discussed the brands of hot dogs they were planning to grill during the coming evening. “This one is mushy.” “I found one.” “Look right here.” “Only pick the blue ones.” “That isn’t blue.” Pleasantly buzzed in the background as my big farmer and I worked in companionable silence. About an hour passed before the crying got louder and the phrases were replaced with “It’s hot.” “I need some water.” “Are you about done?” “Your mom is about done.” And then the noise mostly ended all at once.
Every once in a while a fellow picker would come flying down our row with a cute basket, a five gallon bucket, a baseball cap, or the TacoBell cup they had in their car and they would pluck maybe 3 berries from one end of the row to the other. Then I turned to my big farmer and said to him, “Some of these pickers have never cleaned a row of green beans, and it shows.” He stood up out of his blueberry bush to say, “Well, no.” I don’t have a lot of memories picking much growing up on the farm, but I have very vivid memories of processing quart after quart after quart of produce in a day’s time. My favorite was sweet corn because that always included eating a lot of sweet corn for lunch as well as out of the cutting bowl. Green beans were much less fun. All too often, I got my hands mixed up and for several turns would go to throwing my tails into my clean beans and the clean beans into the trash which was a frustrating mix up. My little cousin Taylor would break each green bean exactly once in half, which was not an acceptable method. But it made my Granny smile and giggle through the whole chore.
One really big bowl of blueberries later we have already discussed blueberry cheesecake and blueberry biscuits (one of my specialties from a recipe I found). I look forward to checking my Pinterest board for other blueberry pins I have made. I am glad that my big farmer and I spared a couple hours to pluck fresh local blueberries in the company of our fellow blueberry pickers. I loved being among neighbors who were getting so much joy from picking their own food. Anyone can be a farmer for one day. It brings a sense of adventure and self-confidence along with enjoying fresher foods that are more likely eaten if you have invested a little of yourself in gathering them.
After making three or four recipes with blueberries, I finally decided we should freeze the remainder so we wouldn’t lose them. My big farmer and I lovingly pre-measured the blue balls into ziplock bags and he took them to the basement to the only freezer with any space. Moments later I could hear him laughing from above the stairs. “Did you know this freezer is full of blueberries?” he shouted.