Blueberries And Their Farmer
Blueberry season is (just about) upon us, so we might as well revisit some of the farm photographs from our inaugural issue, Blueberries. The issue featured Chris Luther, an organic blueberry farmer in Oglethorpe County. Chris and his berries will be back at market soon, as will blueberry farmers (at their respective markets) around the South. If you can't meet Chris and his wife Rhonda is person, the next best thing is to read our profile in our inaugural zine. He is, to say the least, a character. An enriching one. Below is a bit from said story, concerning how Chris takes blueberries to market.
At peak blueberry season, Luther trucks 200 pounds of blueberries to each Saturday farmers market. Pints of blue exchange hands fast those mornings, but the bit of easy-going commerce belies the level of effort required to get blueberries from the field to market. Two hundred pounds takes three days worth of harvest, a task usually performed by Luther and one or two helpers (lately, two star athletes from the Oglethorpe County High School girls softball team).
Together they comb through branches for the week’s choicest berries, plucking those still sturdy but ready to pop. “Two in the bucket, one in the mouth,” goes Luther’s quality control mantra. The
farmer must always taste the product. A job perk for sure. From the bucket, the berries are dumped onto a terrycloth towel, and there Luther culls again for unworthy blueberries. At the end of a harvesting session, he’ll pack the chosen ones into pint containers and then stores them until market time in a climate-controlled room just off his house. Sixty degrees for no more than three days. Harvesting, however, is but one task a blueberry farmers completes throughout the day. There’s stuff to fix, plants to water, weeds to whack and grass to mow.
Oh, how the grass is a full-time job itself. Someone once asked him how long it took to mow his acreage. He calmly replied: “9 months.” By the time you get to one end of a field, he said, it’s time to start over.
“If mowing grass and weed eating was an Olympic event, I’d take gold.”
Even in the heat of summer, when the berries are ripe and ready, that standard level of maintenance can’t be ignored.
“I’m out here sunrise to sundown,” Luther said. But that’s not entirely true; he works well into dark. Remember how blueberry plants are fickle about water?
Well, Luther rarely sleeps through a night, waking up every few hours to rush out to the fields to turn one set of water valves on to drip and turn another set off. Up and down all night, he says, shaking his head, the response of any sane person, “You’ve got to love it or you just can’t do it.”