Blueberries are just a part of this sanctuary

Kile Brewer
Posted 5/2/18

OAKLEAF – The blueberries are ready, but only for a short time.

The finicky crop, available locally at the Blu By U blueberry farm in Northwest Clay County, will be ripe for the picking for …

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Blueberries are just a part of this sanctuary

Posted

OAKLEAF – The blueberries are ready, but only for a short time.

The finicky crop, available locally at the Blu By U blueberry farm in Northwest Clay County, will be ripe for the picking for less than a handful of weeks. The farm’s opening day was April 28, and, because of the staggered ripening of the plants, will offer the fruit until the bushes are completely picked over and next year’s growing season starts.

After suffering from bad weather last year, the farm – in its third official growing season – hopes to shatter its yield record, going from 2,500 pounds in their first year to an estimated 5,000 this year.

“It has to get cold in the winter to produce a good crop, if it doesn’t get cold, you don’t get any berries,” said the farm’s owner Tom Morris. “On the other hand, if it freezes you don’t get any berries, but this year we’ve been lucky.”

Morris and his friend and farm manager Matt Merrill got into the blueberry business after spending a couple decades in youth ministry.

“We went from raising teenagers to raising blueberries,” Morris said, laughing. “I don’t know what’s been easier, there’s still drama and they’re still moody.”

The two set out to create something that was unique to the area, starting with blueberries and eventually growing into a destination for field trips and youth retreats.

“We wanted to get a piece of property that we could do something with,” Morris said. “Somewhere we could enjoy nature and pick and eat blueberries. We also wanted something that could be a retirement option.”

They found the former site of Veterans Farm and decided to learn how to farm blueberries.

After the first year’s success, they decided to try and add to the experience. Now the farm offers more than just blueberries with a built-out sandy beach area that sits next to the homemade plywood drive-in movie screen.

As you take the meandering gravel road, which is lined with signs to direct patrons deep into the woods where the farm is located, you will eventually come to the penned-in area where the farm’s fauna are kept, complete with a dozen and a half chickens, five ducks, a mini donkey and two fresh baby goats who moved to the farm a couple days prior to this year’s opening day.

They even purchased 35 caterpillars that they saw through their metamorphosis, creating the inaugural Blu By U butterfly garden to accompany the bees kept at the farm that help pollinate the blueberries.

“We want people to enjoy themselves out here, it’s not just about the blueberries,” Merrill said as he walked through the field sampling this year’s crop. “We’ve already had a couple retreats [in the offseason], and kids from local churches have come out to watch movies on the screen.”

Merrill said the best part is seeing the fruits of their labor, families walking the rows of blueberries smiling and enjoying what the two men have created. After the blueberries are picked and weighed, they offer snow cones and fresh squeezed lemonade made with Blu By U lemons.

Blueberries sell for $4 a pound for the u-picks, and $7 if you buy the pre-picked berries sold next to the lemonade and local honey in the 1880-built farmhouse at the center of the property. They also have adolescent plants for sale in case a customer wants to try growing their own bush full of the plump blue marbles that surely beat anything store-bought.

The farm will continue to open up Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 to 6. During this year’s season, the farm expects at least 300 people every Saturday, and busy days might prevent some skipped hours as the berries ripen up. According to the website, the first Saturday and Tuesdays went so well that they are forgoing their Thursday hours this week to save up berries for Saturday, May 5. For more information, they recommend watching their website, www.blubyujax.com, and Facebook page for updated hours. If you missed the first round, however, there will be a second harvest in June when the late-season variety ripens.

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