State News

May 10, 2014

Blueberry growers go to 'pick-it-yourself’ model

Brenna DeWitt said blueberry farming is going the way of a lot of other crops.

“It’s really gotten to where it’s get big or get out,” she said.

At Blu-Witt farms, she and her husband Tom decided to stay small and stay in.

They’ve converted to a “pick-it-yourself” operation and opened their picking season about a week ago.

The DeWitts have been farming about 10 years and had planted high bush blueberries with plans to pick them by machine and market them through a national distributor. But the weather, market prices and some other factors make that too risky, Brenna DeWitt said.

“You could have a great season and so does everybody else and the price plummets,” she said.

Also, a farmer could harvest some fruit with a little freeze damage or some other appearance issues and have it all rejected, she said.

“Last year, we said that’s it for commercial,” DeWitt said.

What they realize, however, is that a little blemish on the skin doesn’t affect the nutrition or the taste and that people who pick the berries are just as happy as if they were getting flawless berries, she said.

People who come out to pick bring their children and they have a good time.

“They want to be part of getting their food and share the experience with their children,” she said.

The adults enjoy it, too.

Vince and Pon Essig were picked on side-by-side rows just before noon. Asked why she picks, Pon Essig said, “For a healthful purpose. We love to eat blueberries. We love it here. It’s so peaceful.”

And popping a couple in her mouth, she said, “I get to eat blueberries free.”

Those will augment the ones she’ll eat at home in Brunswick. Forming a cup with her hands, she said, “I have this much every morning.”

Her husband pointed out the starred blossom end of the berry with the pointed ends that form a crown.

“I got an education from Tom,” he said.

Tom DeWitt showed them around and explained the different varieties and what they do to make the berries flourish. DeWitt formerly worked at the popular Crab Trap restaurant on St. Simons where he said he gave Brenna a summer job a long time ago.

“She never left me,” and now the two of them work side-by-side on the farm handed down from her parents.

“She planted every one of those bushes, those 1,200 on that side,” he said sweeping his hand over a good portion of their fields.

She said she’d plant the bushes if he prepared the ground, so he plowed it, put in the pine bark that blueberries love and they later installed the drip tape irrigation.

“That’s close to 1 1/2 miles of pipe,” he said.

The DeWitts aren’t alone in the business. Gerard “Dr. K” Krewer, a retired research and agriculture extension scientist, has 26 varieties of blueberries growing on his organic Harrietts Bluff Farm southeast of Woodbine.

“Everything is wide open,” he said. “People interested in their health love blueberries. People come three or four times and freeze a lot of them.”

Blueberries are versatile and have a variety of health benefits, he said.

Krewer has been open for a few weeks and his rabbit eye berries will continue bearing at least through June, he said.

He gets a lot of repeat customers and so do the DeWitts.

Ann Reynolds and Jody Fraser came to Blu-Witt Tuesday to pick berries.

“You can pick a gallon in no time,” Reynolds said.

“It was easy,” Fraser said. “It’s beautiful out here.”

Reynolds liked the fact that it’s clean around the bottoms of the bushes and the grass is mowed.

As Tom DeWitt said of his wife, “It’s she and I. We’ve both got mowers.”

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