Summer’s here, and the time is right for laying on some high-SPF sunblock, playing farmer and finding a ripe-for-the-picking blueberry patch.
These perfect little indigo orbs of deliciousness have a fairly long season here in Georgia, and the 17,000 acres of the berries state farmers have under cultivation bring in just over $100 million in a good year. Georgia consistently ranks among the top five blueberry producers in the U.S. In 2017, though, the state was hit by a hard freeze after flowers bloomed during a warm spell in February. Farmers’ yields dropped by 80%, according to Erick Smith, UGA’s blueberry expert. Recently, Georgia congressman Buddy Carter successfully tucked a provision for the state’s blueberry farmers into the $19 billion disaster aid bill signed earlier this month.
Meanwhile, 2019 seems to be shaping up to be a good year for the blueberries, and local fans are fanning out to the many “you pick ’em” blueberry farms in the Athens area. Armed with buckets and big floppy hats to shield against the sun, people are looking for the ripest, most delicious blueberries for the many treats they can make: pancakes, muffins, pies, smoothies, fruit salads, cocktails, pan sauces for grilled meats, compotes, jams—the list goes on and on.
Health benefits abound, too. Blueberries are called by some the “king of antioxidants,” and they help offset the effects of aging, mitigate DNA damage, reduce blood pressure and fight urinary tract infections. But for true-blue fans of the little berries, the real value is in the unmistakable taste: a little sour and citrusy, a little sweet, but ultimately… blue.
Here is a perhaps incomplete list of local you-pick farms within, say, 25 miles of Athens. Farmers ask berry pickers to look online or call to find out when they are open or closed, due to the vagaries of the availability of ripe fruit. Most farmers say their season will extend into mid-to-late July.
Healing Path Farm
Lewis and Terry Salguero operate a venue for the healing arts, hosting groups such as Wild Intelligence and a local men’s group.
Location: 5055 Barnett Shoals Road, Athens
Number of bushes: 500 Certified Naturally Grown.
Price: $12 per 5-pint bucket. Use the available buckets placed on the picnic basket along the driveway. Buckets are for sale ($1), or bring a sack for your harvest. Honor system.
Hours: Sunup to sundown.
Owners Steve and Kay Smith actively run the business and will greet customers and answer their questions.
Location: 1571 Whippoorwill Road, Watkinsville
Number of bushes: 450
Price: $10 per gallon bucket.
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
Contact: Daily updates on Facebook, or 706-769-1929.
Long Shot Farms
Owner Laura Podriznik also raises figs and dairy goats. Figs are sold pre-picked when they ripen in late July; contact her through Facebook to place orders and obtain info on pickup. She is a certified goat producer and teaches classes on goat keeping. She also keeps bees and sells beeswax- and honey-based soaps and shampoos through ReBlossom, an Athens boutique and parenting resource center. Podriznik will soon open a haberdashery shop in a historic schoolhouse, where she will offer hand-sewn garments made from natural fibers. She is also experimenting with dyeing fibers with blueberries and other plants around the farm.
Location: 158 Wolfskin Road, Arnoldsville
Number of bushes: 2,000
Price: $13 per 1-gallon bucket, or $24 for 2 gallons. Honor system.
Hours: Sunup to sundown.
Contact: Facebook, or 770-624-4576.
Miller Blueberry Farm
Owner Ron Putman is a font of blueberry knowledge, and says the sweetest blueberries are at the end of the pink, not green, stems, and yield more readily to picking. He will also describe to customers the relative merits of the several varieties of blueberries on his farm, and says that some connoisseurs travel far to pick specific berries. Putman is also a professional dancer and dance instructor.
Location: 1375 Union Church Road, Watkinsville
Number of bushes: 2,500
Price: $2.25 per pound. Buckets available on front porch. Pick, and then weigh.
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–1 or 2 p.m., “because it gets too hot to be picking.”
Contact: ronputman.com/blueberry-farm or 706-765-3076
Buffalo Creek Farms
Owners Laura Pallas and Cameron Phillips also tend seven beehives and grow raspberries ($9 per pound; season almost over) and blackberries and mulberries ($5 per pound), herbs, vegetables and strawberries earlier in the summer. They sell at the Athens Farmers Market, Broad Street Farmers Market and the Monroe Farmers Market.
Location: 810 Stevens Grove Church Road, Lexington
Number of bushes: 2,500 Certified Naturally Grown.