There’s a little bit of magic in a fresh-picked blueberry—sweet and still warm from the sun. Going berry picking is a summer staple in Western North Carolina when farms open their gates to everyone who want to pick berries right from the bush.
“They love picking blueberries and they love eating them as they pick. That’s the fun part,” blueberry farmer Debbie Perry says with a laugh. She co-owns Perry’s Berry’s in Morganton with her husband Terry.
Terry has spent many summers in the fields with berry-stained hands. “Fifty years ago, when I was a child, I picked blueberries on a farm in Banner Elk and I wanted my grandkids to have that experience. So we put out 500 plants, then had another grandchild, and we put out 500 plants and it just kept growing until where we are today—four grandkids and 2,800 plants.”
They named their fields after their grandkids, who still come to pick a few times a week during berry season. But their farm isn’t just for their own family—they want everyone to experience the joys of berry picking. “We encourage people to bring their families and kids, picnics if you want to. Most folks come stay hours,” he says.
Berry picking is a sweet way to spend an afternoon, but it can also be a learning experience. “If it’s a child, pick a real nasty pink berry and have him taste it. Of course he goes yuck and spits it out. Then you pick the prettiest purple blue that you can find. And you ask the child which one would you rather eat. Well of course he makes the right pick and then you watch him pick his own fruit and the satisfaction that he gets and the parents get,” Terry says. “You’re teaching them healthy habits.”
The Perrys want to share those healthy habits with lots of kids. So they invite school and community groups to visit the farm to learn how blueberries are grown in the summer, and pumpkins are grown in the fall. It’s proven to be a successful venture, and they’ve expanded this part of their business over the past few years.
Terry says it’s an experience that sticks with kids even after they leave the farm. “I like seeing kids go up and grab their mother’s shirt and say ‘Momma it’s the blueberry man. It’s the blueberry man!’ Because a lot of the kids do bring their parents back,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun to see that they had a good time, so they want to share that with their family and their brothers and sisters. Then they bring the whole crowd and come see us.”
Debbie adds that adults are also eager to talk to them about their farm. “When we’re out in the community, a lot of folks know who we are and they just come up and start talking about our farm and how much fun they had.”
The Perry family wants their farm to be a place to connect with agriculture through their blueberries and pumpkins, and also the menagerie of animals that people can meet when they visit. After washing their hands, people can pet horses and donkeys, and get up close to ducks, chickens, and turkeys.
“To see a kid that’s never seen a chicken before, to see somebody that can pet a horse that’s never even been near a horse. It’s a lot of fun to see the kids with the animals,” Terry says.
Agritourism is an exciting way to explore local farms. There’s plenty to see and eat—from berries in the summer to apples in the fall. Learn how to visit Perry’s Berries in Morganton and dozens of other u-pick farms in the Southern Appalachians in ASAP’s Local Food Guide – appalachaingrown.org.
Aired: July 16, 2018