In the Shadow of the Blueberry Titans, Smaller Growers Thrive

HAMMONTON, N.J. — Jeanne Lindsay typically apologizes for the semi-wild state of her pick-your-own blueberry patch, which she runs on the farm her in-laws began in 1941.

It’s no surprise: Since her husband died 4 years in the past, Mrs. Lindsay, 75, has to handle the 16-acre homestead principally by herself. It doesn’t assist that she tends to check her 65-year-old vegetation — vintage blueberry breeds like juicy Weymouths, Jerseys tall sufficient to supply shade and 6 tart-fruited Rancocas — to the superbly trimmed bushes at her neighbor’s big farm throughout the road.

Yet it’s exactly the old style imperfections of Lindsay’s Farm that make its moss-carpeted rows well worth the journey for regulars, a lot of whom now deliver their youngsters.

“Some people come just for the Rancocas,” Mrs. Lindsay mentioned. “They’re good pie berries.”

From late June till the top of July, this nook of South Jersey, often known as the Pinelands, is the blueberry epicenter of the Eastern United States; this flat area of sandy soils is the place business cultivation of the berries started a century in the past. Today, New Jersey’s blueberry crop stays the fifth-largest within the nation by acreage, eclipsed in recent times by these of states (like Washington and Georgia) with extra land for growers to develop into, mentioned Mark Ehlenfeldt, a blueberry breeding specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture in close by Chatsworth.

Most of New Jersey’s blueberries at the moment are cultivated on huge farms with lots of of acres, which usually develop simply three high-yield varieties that may face up to machine choosing and delivery: Dukes in June, Bluecrops by July, then smaller, tarter Elliots to complete the season.

But in case you take the time to drive the smaller byways of the Pinelands — a seven-county space that features a million government-preserved acres of pitch pine, white cedar and a fine-grained soil known as sugar sand — you possibly can nonetheless discover loads of much less standard blueberries, and smaller farms, like Mrs. Lindsay’s.

One of these is Stevens Blueberries, a seven-acre business operation on the finish of a white sand street deep within the pine forests of New Lisbon. When Richard and Connie Stevens purchased their farm within the 1980s, it got here with a blueberry hoeing machine constructed from Ford Model A elements. Mr. Stevens was then within the navy, working close by at what was then McGuire Air Force Base.

The farm is now run by their 38-year-old son, Richard Stevens Jr.; the household sells its crop to a packer, but additionally permits clients to choose their very own berries. They nonetheless develop principally what was planted there in 1951, mentioned the son, providing a style of Elizabeths, Stanleys, Weymouths, Berkeleys, Blue Crops and Jerseys, plus a couple of Rancocas which can be off-limits.

“They’re my mom’s pride and joy,” mentioned the youthful Mr. Stevens. “We’re not allowed to touch them.”

These breeds had been additionally the satisfaction and pleasure of Elizabeth Coleman White, a cranberry farmers’ daughter who labored with authorities researchers to determine the business blueberry trade in 1916. Until then, blueberries had been a wild factor, an indigenous American fruit foraged like ramps or morels. White made taming the Northern highbush berries in her woods her life’s work, and made American agricultural historical past within the course of.

Like cranberries, blueberries thrive in acidic soils, which the Pinelands have in abundance.

“They were really looking for a second crop for cranberry growers,” mentioned Allison Pierson, the director of Whitesbog Preservation Trust, which runs the three,000-acre White household farm, now preserved contained in the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. Known as Whitesbog Historic Village, it contains the Whites’ authentic vegetation, in addition to the long-forgotten Katherine, June, Pemberton, Dixi and Wareham bushes nonetheless planted round her home. (Yes, Ms. Pierson mentioned, you possibly can choose from them.)

Elizabeth White, who died in 1954, additionally helped begin the Tru-Blu Cooperative Association to distribute and market the fruit throughout the nation, with the assistance of commercials within the New York City subway and breakfasts at B. Altman & Company, the previous division retailer on Fifth Avenue.

The group’s first order of enterprise was simply to get individuals to name them blueberries. Originally, mentioned Mr. Ehlenfeldt, who moonlights because the publication editor for Whitesbog, most individuals known as any blue berry a huckleberry, which is a special fruit.

Botanically talking, there are three varieties of blueberries, mentioned Mr. Ehlenfeldt: highbush (the sort grown on most business farms), lowbush (nonetheless solely wild and most well-known in Maine) and rabbiteye. The rabbiteye berries have an earthier taste, he mentioned, and are historically discovered within the American South, although Mr. Ehlenfeldt has fairly few in his huge analysis assortment.

Most cultivated blueberry vegetation now grown in New Jersey — and plenty of around the globe — may be traced instantly again to White’s work.

A couple of miles west of Whitesbog is Haines Berry Farm, run by the great-grandson of the Whitesbog superintendent. And simply throughout the street from Whitesbog is Pine Barrens Native Fruits, run by White’s great-nephew Joe Darlington.

The Darlingtons lease and farm the cranberry bogs at Whitesbog, and take care of a number of acres of Elizabeths. Released in 1966 and named after White — who thought-about it to have beautiful taste — the Elizabeth is a cult favourite, mentioned Connie Casselman, who works within the workplace at Pine Barrens Native Fruits. Ms. Casselman alerts the farm’s mailing checklist when the fruits, which may develop to the scale of 1 / 4, are on the market.

They’re the sweetest berry you’ll ever have,” she mentioned. “People come from all over to get them. It’s insane.”

They choose for you at Pine Barrens Native Fruits. But at Fred Plus III, in Pemberton Township, guests are free to choose their very own berries, and discover the historic fields and surrounding pine forest.

The farm is owned by Fred Detrick, 96, a retired professor who nonetheless takes to his tractor to observe greater than 60 acres of berries. He used to promote twice that commercially to make extra cash within the summers via the Whites’ Tru-Blu cooperative, which closed in 2005.

Mr. Detrick mentioned the cooperative advised him he may make $1,000 an acre, although he’s fast so as to add that he by no means has.

His daughter-in-law Roni Detrick, 61, now runs his you-pick operation, the place clients can relaxation within the shade of an historic oak after a couple of hours of thumbing clusters of old style candy Walcotts right into a pail. They have Dukes, Bluecrops and Elliots, too.

Ms. Detrick, a scientific social employee, additionally has plans to let at-risk youngsters from close by Camden choose and ship berries to homeless shelters this summer time, and to steer a Japanese model of nature walks known as shinrin yoku, or forest bathing. (She has but to persuade her father-in-law that’s a good suggestion.)

Stevens Blueberries additionally straddles outdated and new. The youthful Mr. Stevens, a self-described “hard-core” science-type who teaches pineland ecology at Rowan University, has not too long ago planted 6,000 sq. toes of wildflowers to draw native bugs to pollinate the vegetation. It’s each to boost crop manufacturing and, finally, to lure guests for his or her blooms. He hopes to go pesticide-free, and planted a row of native seashore plums, too. (Like a lot of the different small farmers, he tries to make use of pesticides sparingly and solely when needed.)

Mr. Stevens’ favourite berries are the Bluecrops, particularly in the event that they sit on the bush for an additional day or two to get just a little sweeter. Like most New Jersey growers, nonetheless, he’ll let you know it’s not the variability that issues a lot, however how way back they left the bush.

“I’ve turned into one of the blueberry snobs,” Mr. Stevens mentioned. “You should see me in the grocery store.” Look for the dusty blue-white coating that slips away the extra the fruit is dealt with, he mentioned: “That’s how you know it’s a fresh berry.”

Adam Paluszak, 38, the fourth-generation proprietor of A.G. Ammon Nursery in Chatsworth, which nonetheless grows heirloom varieties just like the Elizabeths for farms and residential gardeners, could also be even snobbier.

“Just picked — that’s probably the most important thing,” Mr. Paluszak mentioned. “I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even eat refrigerated berries.”

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