By Lenny C. Lepola
Almost everyone loves blueberries. They’ll buy one of those 8-ounce packages at the supermarket, and soon after they’re home the blueberries are gone. Eaten by the handful, that half-pound of blueberries lasts about 10 minutes.Most blueberries we get at the market are advertised as fresh, but they can’t be that fresh shipped from distant states like Michigan, Maine, Florida, or California. Some even come from Mexico, Chile, or Argentina.
It is possible to get fresh blueberries in central Ohio, fresh-picked right off the plant; you can even pick your own, have fun outdoors, and save money along the way. All you have to do is drive to Berryfield Farm in Centerburg and pick all the fresh blueberries you want for $2.85 a pound.
Berryfield Farm is a retirement business venture of Mike Furbee and Maggie Fenton. Furbee is in the process of retiring from West Virginia University, Fenton is a retired IT consultant.
A widow and a widower, the blueberry aficionados met seven years ago. They were looking for a place for them to retire somewhere between central Ohio and Morgantown, West Virginia.
“We wanted it to be in the country, have room for a big garden, room to grow things, some woods, a pond, a house that might need some work but not a complete re-do,” Fenton said. “We looked at a number of wonderful places and one of us would look at the other and say something like: Well, house is nice, place is nice … so we move here. Then what? After months, maybe a couple of years of this, it became obvious that we would not be happy retiring to a life of playing golf or bridge.”
In late summer, 2010, Fenton’s daughter, Leah, sent her an e-mail that she had received from the owner of Berryfield Farm. He said he was selling and wanted to give his pickers first dibs at the place. Leah thought her mother and Mike should look at it. They did. They talked. They studied. And they bought it.
What they bought was 20.5 acres with almost four acres planted in four high-bush blueberry varieties — Blueray and Bluecrop that were ready for picking in mid-June, Coville that are just now hitting their peak, and Elliott’s that should produce for another month.
It wasn’t exactly a turnkey purchase. The previous owner had not been able to maintain the farm well for a number of years due to some health issues and it needed tending; and the crop is a favorite roosting place of starlings, an invasive species that can wipe out a blueberry crop if not kept at bay. Last year they were almost wiped out by starlings, this year they’ve netted a significant portion of the field.
“Mike had grown blueberries many years ago; and I’d grown up on a farm and have grown things all my adult life,” Fenton said. “We did this with eyes open … or at least mostly open. We knew it would be a lot of work, but some days I think we underestimated just how much it would be.
“This is our second season,” Fenton continued. “The first winter, we pruned in foot deep snow and 10 degree weather. We can prune from the first freeze in the fall until the first sign of growth appears. The first two winters were pretty intense because the field hadn’t been pruned in awhile, but we’re hoping it will be a bit easier if we keep up with it now.”
Furbee said Berryfield Farm is technically not an organic operation, but it does come close. Furbee and Fenton follow Fruit Growers Association planting and cultivation guidelines.
“We take a sustainable approach to tend the berries,” Furbee said. “We don’t want to eat berries that have been sprayed and treated with chemicals, and we wouldn’t sell our customers anything we wouldn’t eat.”
And customers are the true test of produce quality, Furbee said. Some have returned three, four, even five times this season to pick more berries; many customers drive an hour to get to Berryfield Farm.
“Our customers are great; they’re supportive and have great ideas for us,” Furbee said. “We’ve had a lot of first timers who’ve never picked a berry in their lives and some who have been picking berries since they could walk. We have multiple generations who come with children and grandchildren. Most all of them enjoy the peace and quiet of being in the country.”
Berryfield Farm is also turning into a family project. Fenton’s son Scott has been a beekeeper for over 12 years (beehavenacres.com). The farm has four — soon to be nine — hives that help pollinate berries and produce honey sold during berry picking season; daughter Leah (baddogacres.com) is an herbalist and has done herbal walks and lessons at the farm to teach people how to use native plants to make teas, balms, and poultices.
That’s not all, Fenton said. A significant portion of the acreage is planted in tree varieties suitable for Christmas trees.
“We didn’t know we were getting a Christmas tree farm too until a friend from West Virginia who owns one there came to visit and told us that’s exactly what we had,” Fenton explained. “Now, he comes yearly to help us trim the trees. We plan to open for a couple of weeks before Christmas for people to cut their own tree. We also had a wreath-making workshop before Christmas last year using evergreens, holly, and other native materials from the farm. This year we might add a Thanksgiving centerpiece workshop.”
But right now Berryfield Farm is all about picking your own blueberries — at least until the end of the season; and picking your own is a great family outing. Blueray and Bluecrop varieties are ripe but thinning out, Coville is peaking, and Elliott’s will round out the season that ends in early August.
Hours change with the season, but right now you can pick your own blueberries at Berryfield Farm Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 12-noon, on Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours are updated weekly at berryfieldfarm.com.
Evening picking hours are by appointment — call 740–625-7278 and leave a message, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Berryfield Farm is located at 6424 Township Road 199, Centerburg. To get to Berryfield Farm from Sunbury travel north on Route 3, go through Centerburg and turn left on 314 (just after Memorial Park), and left on Township Road 199. Berryfield Farm is on the left. You can’t miss it. The sign says Blueberries.
Lenny C. Lepola is a reporter for The Sunbury News.