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Home News-Telegram News Berry farmers help people lose the blues

Berry farmers help people lose the blues

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TYLER, Texas (AP) — Emi Applequist had blue lips, blue fingers and seeds on her chin as she doggedly toddled among the blueberry bushes in search of the low-hanging fat, ripe fruit.

The consumption of a fallen dirt-level berry brought a light scolding from the 2-year-old girl's grandmother, Sandra Adair, 59, a Tyler native now living in Arlington.

The berry scavenging for the family and other basket-toting pickers marked a typical late-spring morning recently for the Tyler Berry Farm just northwest of Tyler off a pastoral county road.

Former aerospace engineer Larry Reynolds and his wife, Felicitas, bought the farm, 9628 County Road 429, nine years ago after retiring from Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth.

Reynolds, who grew up in Massachusetts, said a romantic notion planted in his berry-picking childhood inspired him to take up farming in his golden years.

The previous owner launched Tyler Berry Farm in 1980, he said. The farm sits on 26 acres, with 3½ acres of it for blueberries and 2 acres dedicated to blackberries.

"I thought I'd find something nice to do," Reynolds, 75, said while sitting in the shade of his farm shed while his wife, working nearby, packed blueberries into wicker baskets. "I remember going up to Maine and picking berries with my dad.

"But I work harder now than I ever did. It's very challenging."

He cited proper management of the three W's as the key foundations to farming: weeds, water and weather.

Reynolds said he can control two out of three, but weather this year has been problematic for fruit ripening, for both blueberries and blackberries.

Unseasonably cool weather has pushed back ripening for weeks, while warmer annual temperatures have also had an effect, he said.

"It's getting warmer and warmer and warmer every year," Reynolds said. "That makes for mediocre fruit."

Prime blueberry-picking season runs from late May to early August, with blackberries lagging about two weeks behind, he said, adding that blackberries as of last week weren't quite ready for plucking.

Tyler Berry Farm also produces figs and pecans, he said.

While the farm primarily is "a you-pick operation," blueberries are sold in bulk to retailers such as Brookshire's grocers, Reynolds said.

He prides himself on the operation's simplicity.

"We do everything by hand," he said. "There are no machines here."

Machines can damage fruit, deteriorate freshness and minimize yield, he said.

Reynolds works the plants while his wife, 59, handles packaging operations.

"I'm here to fill in the blanks and take care of the field stuff," he said.

Felicitas Reynolds laughed when asked about the transition from wife of an aerospace engineer to blueberry farmer.

She serves as the operation's front line.

"I like meeting the people," she said about what she enjoys most about the work.

Like many of her customers, Felicitas Reynolds spends much of her day being blue. She uses her blue fingers to pop berries past her blue teeth throughout the day at her packaging station.

Charles and Elsie Barnes of Neches visited the blueberry patch recently.

"I haven't picked any in a couple of years, but we were determined to come up here today," said Elsie Barnes, 70, a retired teacher.

She recalled a family tradition of grabbing a bag full of McDonald's sausage biscuits and taking her two granddaughters out to Tyler Berry Farm.

"They'd have breakfast in the sand and pick blueberries," she said.

The granddaughters are grown and have their own children, and Elsie Barnes plans to take the great-grandchildren to the farm — sausage biscuits and all.

For Sandra Adair, a first-grade teacher, last week marked her granddaughter Emi's first blueberry-picking experience, although the girl has picked fruit near her home city.

Emi and her family were visiting from Washington, D.C., and Adair's parents are longtime Tyler residents.

"This is my first time, but my mommy and daddy have been coming for many years," she said.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.





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