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FS Chocolatiers uses LOCAL fresh fruit for Farm to Plate

Published Sep. 13, 2013 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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The Beilsteins

Set on an 80-acre parcel of rolling Richland County terrain, that was originally intended for apple production, the Beilsteins have created Ohio's largest blueberry farm, known simply as "The Blueberry Patch." Although it sounds straightforward, there's a lot more to be discovered than twigs and berries.

Early on lessons were learned the hard way.  Steve learned blueberry plants, although native to North America, require irrigation in Ohio's climate to fulfill the inch per week water needs of the bushes during the growing season when he lost half of the 1,500 plants he put in the ground his first year. They also learned that it takes up to five years to get a viable commercial crop after planting a two-year-old bush in the ground. It was a learning curve that continues to this day, where The Blueberry Patch now boasts 18,000 plants on 12 acres of well-drained, limestone-void soil. Nearly 18 miles of permanently installed irrigation pipes line the fields, as do the Beilsteins' loyal customers, who fill the farm rows eagerly picking fresh blueberries each summer.

The Beilsteins grow 27 blueberry varieties so that each ripens at different times, giving pickers a continuous ripe product all the way from about the second week of July through the middle of September. About 5,000 visitors make their way to the farm during the first couple of busy weekends of the season. "We always give our customers the best and cleanest picking spot in the field that has the ripest and biggest berries," Steve said. After the customers get their first choice, hired pickers harvest the best of what is left and the remaining are machine harvested.

Other producers were on to the Beilsteins early. As The Blueberry Patch started propagating its own plants, Steve and Lisa started selling leftovers to other nurseries, a move that has turned into a 12-month season. Some of their bushes end up in large national retail stores and with landscapers.

In addition to a lot of blueberries, the Beilsteins said they want customers to take home an experience that they couldn't get anyplace else. "It's more and more difficult to find a Mom and Pop place that's fun and has something unique, and we're always going to stay on that track," Steve said. "We want people to come back and say, `Let's see what Lisa and Steve have cooked up now.'"

Steve said berries are freshest within one hour of being picked. “Until you eat blueberries straight off the bush, you haven’t tasted a blueberry,” he said.

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