Blueberry bounty

A blueberry farm in Arkansas draws crowds from as far away as Oklahoma and Kansas for a sweet summer treat.

Blueberries are a popular pick-your-own crop in many states.

It's blueberry season, and once again  berry lovers are flocking to Fisher's Blueberries in Gravette, Ark., for a chance to pick their own fresh berries.

Gordon and Debbie Fisher moved to northwest Arkansas from the Houston area in 1981 because they wanted to live in the country. Their farm, located west of Gravette off of Arkansas Highway 72, is a picture of rural Benton County. Sitting on the porch of the farmhouse, one would never guess the farm is just a few minutes from town.

Debbie says the couple was looking for a way to utilize their farm when they decided on blueberries. The Fishers planted their blueberries in 1985, and by 1987 the bushes were producing, and the Fishers opened their blueberry business.

The Fishers now have three acres of blueberries with three different varieties: Collins, Blue Crop, and Blue Ray. The Collins blueberries ripen early in the season and are the sweetest variety for fresh eating, Debbie says. The other two types are midseason varieties and are best for cooking, as well as fresh eating.

In the 1980s blueberry farms became popular, and were found all over northwest Arkansas, Debbie says. Since then, many of those farms have given way to subdivisions or major highways.

Debbie adds that the president of the Blueberry Growers' Association recently told her the Fisher farm is one of only six blueberry farms left in Benton and Washington counties.

Northwest Arkansas seems to be a good place to grow blueberries. The bushes thrive in the acid soil, and the environment provides the right temperatures and the correct amount of moisture for berries.

"Our garden soil needs lime [to neutralize the soil enough for vegetables], but the berries love it," she says.

Debbie's favorite part about running a blueberry farm is being able to visit with all her customers. "Some people have been coming for 15 or 20 years, and I only see them during blueberry season," she says.

Customers travel from as far away as Oklahoma City, Okla., and Wichita, Kan., to find the plump, sweet berries. Each customer goes home with a sheet of recipes and ideas on how to use their blueberries.

Blueberry farming is a lot of work. Debbie and Gordon both have full-time jobs, Debbie as a third-grade teacher in the Jay, Okla., school district, and Gordon as a bus mechanic for the Gravette school district.

Debbie uses her summer break to manage the farm during blueberry season, but there is work to be done year-round. The couple spends most of their spare time pruning, watering, fertilizing, and mowing.

They don't use any pesticides on their blueberry plants, so the berries are safe to eat fresh, right off the bush. Few insects bother the bushes, but birds, squirrels, and rabbits get their share of blueberries.

During blueberry season, Debbie's day begins at 6:30 a.m. and lasts until 9 p.m. Most pickers prefer to pick in the cool of the morning or evening. The farm also offers already picked berries, but customers are asked to call ahead with their orders.

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