When Angela Allan first heard that Pickaway County Farm Bureau members Daniel and Jamie Huggett intended to grow blueberries on their sod farm in South Bloomfield, their longtime family friend couldn’t help but wonder if the venture would be fruitful.
“My concern was blueberries in Ohio,” said Allan of Grove City. “I wasn’t sure we had the right growing conditions.”
While the soil and the weather are not ideal for the berries, Daniel, a Michigan native, has had success with the crop. Before planting any bushes, he researched which varieties would most likely thrive in the region’s warmer temperatures and more alkali soil. He and his family diligently prepared the patch and carefully tended the plants, which take about six years to produce enough fruit to be commercially viable.
In hindsight, Allan says the Huggetts’ success is not surprising. It’s a clear example of reaping what you sow, she said. The church-centered family never shies away from hard work and readily helps those neighbors in need, Allan said. “Hard work pays off. They had their heart set on this, and they made it work,” she said. “They’re just an awesome family. They’re really genuine people.”
Blueberry Valley, the Huggett’s you-pick blueberry patch along State Route 23 in Pickaway County, has always been a family effort, Daniel said. The plants are pollinated by bees that were originally cared for by son, Wallace, who now attends University of Dayton. An Eagle Scout, Wallace started keeping bees as a Boy Scout.
Daughter, Sara, a nurse, runs Blueberry Valley’s you-pick operations. She hires staff, orders goods for the family’s seasonal store The Blueberry Barn and has even shared blueberry recipes on a local television program.
Daniel began looking at adding the crop in the early 2000s when the building industry showed signs of slowing. He knew less construction would impact sales at Columbus Turf, the family’s primary business. He and Jamie, who also grew up in Michigan, decided that a blueberry patch would be a way to acknowledge their northern roots.
They planted 500 acres in 2008 and discovered that soil and weather would not be their only challenges. “Birds. Birds are a real problem,” Daniel said. “We tried air cannons, scare devices and pie pans. Nothing seemed to work.”
Finally, the family conferred with farmers in Canada and decided to install large nets around the bushes to keep the birds out.
“The netting is very effective,” Sara said. “People who live around here get excited when they see it go up. They know blueberry time is coming.”
Blueberries health benefits
And for many that’s worth noting, particularly since blueberries have become a celebrated food among nutritionists. Blueberries earn praise as a good source of Vitamin C, dietary fiber and manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients. The berries also are high in antioxidants, meaning they help prevent disease and age-related health risks.
“As the health benefits become more widely known, people are excited to pick them. We have people that come out and pick each time a new variety ripens,” Sara said. “It’s fun for us to hear how people use them differently.”
The growing recognition of the positive properties of blueberries and the increased interest in local foods has helped attract customers to the patch, Daniel said.
“The you-pick really appeals to people who want to know where their food comes from,” he said. The family got lucky that the maturation of their patch coincided with the local food movement, he added. The farm currently has 10 acres of blueberries.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” Sara said. “What better way is there than to pick it yourself.”
Others come to the patch because they remember picking berries as a child and want to share the experience with their children and grandchildren, she said.
For the last several years, Allan and her family have been regulars at the blueberry patch. They pick six to 10 pounds a year. Allan bakes with the berries, sprinkles them on cereal and freezes some. “My family can tell immediately when we run out of blueberries from the farm,” she said.
The Huggetts enjoy meeting the people who come to gather fruit in the patch that’s located a few yards from the family home. Many families return each summer. The berries typically ripen in late June. “They’re making memories,” Jamie said. “It’s nice to be a part of their family traditions.”
COLUMBUS BLUEBERRY FARM
Home of Blueberry Valley Pick-your-own Blueberries
14337 U.S. Highway 23
South Bloomfield, Ohio 43103