Springs blueberry's life as we know it begins when it's planted in the
sandy, acidic soil of East Texas.
all four corners of the Henderson County farm pollinate the bush, which
has taken three years to grow to maturity. The blueberry has been
nourished by the rich soil and the farm's spring-fed lake.
a sunny May morning, the blueberry is ready to be plucked.
machine" trots down the rows of berry bushes, while its fiberglass rods
gently shake the berries off the bush. They land on a track that conveys
them into a tray-like container called a "lug."
blueberry is then lugged to the factory line, where the dirt is shaken
off. It then gets a dip in a bath of pure, cool water. A moment of
tension arises as it passes under the eyes of workers who judge each
berry for perfection. The green and purple berries don't make the grade.
not; those berries go to a winery to party with wrinkled grapes. No
berries are wasted.)
of the berries fall gently into a 20-pound box, where they're either
refrigerated or loaded onto a truck for the long ride to Waxahachie.
they've arrived; they'll soon be swimming in cereals, mixed in muffins
and wallowing in waffles.
blueberries have a different destiny; they are picked by hand for fresh
sales at East Texas Brookshire's and Kroger grocery stores.
Such is the
life of an Echo Springs blueberry. This 55-acre farm, just south of
Brownsboro, is one of the largest blueberry farms in Texas.
Phyllis and Ivan Vaseleniuck are originally from the Rose Capital of
Canada, Windsor, Ontario, but now they live 23 miles from the rose
capitol of Texas. They say they knew nothing about growing blueberries,
nor did they have any such aspirations. But when the couple happened
upon the blueberry farm five years ago, when it was a mere 27 acres,
they fell in love.
couple and their farm manager, retired cop Rick Carver, are local
experts at berry growing.
"Blueberries are a loner plant," said Mrs. Vaseleniuck. "They require
very little maintenance, but a lot of worry."
worrying starts in November, because the bushes must hibernate - they
need a certain number of cold days, she explained. Of course, if there's
too much cold weather, their caretakers can become anxious about frost
until the end of April. By that time, the Vaseleniucks are worrying
about hail, tornadoes, and this year - floods.
rain in June was good for us, though," Mrs. Vaseleniuck said. "There
usually wouldn't be this many berries still on the bushes."
are at their peak from May through the end of July, but the operation
requires constant attention.
a year-round occupation," Mrs. Vaseleniuck said. "If we are not picking,
then we are pruning or weeding or replanting."
year at Echo Springs, families can visit the farm between 8 a.m. and 4
p.m. and pick their own five-quart bucket of blueberries for $10 per
people come out and pick, because I would hate to see food wasted," Mrs.
Vaseleniuck said. "We could always freeze them to sell but they are so
blueberry industry throughout East Texas is bursting with flavor and
profits, local growers say.
Wickwire with the Texas Department of Agriculture said 11 farms in Smith
County reported at least $1,000 in sales for 2003.
to the TDA Web site, there are four blueberry farms in Henderson County,
including Echo Springs, one in Van Zandt County and one farm in Cherokee
state, blueberry sales in 2003 were up $100,000 from the year before,
with $2.6 million in reported sales. Wickwire said that 760 acres of
Texas farmland is devoted to blueberry growing. Smith County Extension
Agent Brian Triplett added that most of the berries consumed in this
region are grown right here in East Texas.
has owned Deep Creek Farm in Smith County for 16 years and his
blueberries go to HEB grocery stores.
Blueberry Basket, near LaRue, offers six acres to pick your own. Grower
Fred Ware said his berries do well in East Texas because the area has
the perfect combination of water and acidic soil.
blueberries also like the heat," he said.
berries can be found on the shelves of Albertson's and Whole Foods in
the Metroplex, he said.
Reynolds, the owner of Tyler Berry Farms, sells his blueberries to Super
1 Foods and the Potpourri House, but many of his berries are picked by
good place for the city-slickers to come on out," Reynolds said. "They
come from miles and miles: Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco."
His farm is
located on County Road 429, just off U.S. Highway 69 near Tyler.
Hills Farm, near Edom, also markets to visitors.
is great for a day trip," owner Chuck Arena said.
Barron sells her berries from Barron's Blueberries Farm at the Tyler
Farmer's Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The farm also
allows people to fill their own buckets for $8.
first started, everyone made fun of us, but now we run to the bank," she
said, estimating she sells about 12,000 pounds of blueberries each year.
Triplett notes the East Texas blueberry industry is quite stable for
an area where the blues are not native.
An additional boost to the business is the healthfulness of the
berries, the subject of several recent studies.
Mandy Jefferson, a dietitian with the Wisenbaker Diabetes Center at
Mother Frances Hospital, said blueberries have antioxidants called
flavinoids that fight the free radicals that can cause cancer.
Blueberries are known to help prevent Alzheimer's disease and
"It's nature's chemotherapy," grower Arena said.
Most farms in the area are open until the beginning of August. For
more information on blueberry farms, visit the TDA Web site,