Berry-licious: Blueberry farm hosts kids berry-picking adventure
Local munchkins nibbled on blueberry brownies and sipped blueberry lemonade before venturing into a blueberry patch Thursday.
First Fruits Blueberry Farm invited daycare providers, tots and parents to tour the 3-acre field, abundant with yummy, blue orbs.
More than 100 youngsters attended the first annual event.
"A lot of people call me the 'Blueberry Lady because I come to town and sell blueberries to different stores and restaurants. They just say, 'Hey, the Blueberry Lady is here!'," owner Debbie Yennie told her young guests. "I lo-o-ove blueberries, and did you know that blueberries are the very, very best fruit that there is for you? Better than bananas. Better than apples and strawberries."
The plump berry offers many nutritional benefits. Not only are blueberries rich in antioxidants, but they are also packed with vitamin C and manganese. A handful of blueberries is a good source of dietary fiber, too.
Yennie cultivates four varieties of blueberry bushes: Patriot, Northblue, Polaris and Chippewa.
"A Patriot is big and round and it looks like a mound. It has tiny, little blueberries on it, like the ones you find out in the woods, the wild ones, but they are very, very sweet. It's almost like eating sugar cubes," she explained.
Northblue, on the other hand, produces large blueberries, sometimes as big as a quarter.
Gesturing to the 77 rows of hybrid bushes, she asked tykes to estimate their number.
"Guess what? We have 4,000 blueberry plants," she said.
All were planted nearly 35 years ago, but experienced a winter kill in 2003. No one expected the bushes to recover. Yennie and her husband purchased the property in 2009, nursing and pruning tiny, emerging sprouts.
"God has been so good and he has brought them back to where they are today. Now our plants are growing very, very well and have lots of fruit," she said.
Each bush yields between two to four pounds of berries.
Youngsters filled a small, white bucket with fruit to take home.
"This is so much fun," Yennie said, adding that attendance was much higher than anticipated.
Last year's wet weather resulted in a mosquito infestation, preventing the organic farm from hosting a kids event.
"We've never had problems with mosquitoes until last year," Yennie said. "What happened, they landed in the bushes. Every time you spread the branches, you literally had flumes of them come out. We couldn't pick. We had to close the farm."
In domino-like fashion, the mosquito swarm led to over-ripening of the fruit, which then attracted fruit flies.
"We lost about a third of our crop," she said.
This summer, the farm is conducting a scientific experiment in cooperation with the University of Minnesota. Yennie strategically placed 11 hummingbird feeders throughout the blueberry fields.
"Not only do they love nectar — it's almost like Kool-Aid for them — but they eat mosquitoes and they eat fruit flies," she explained. "So far, it's working tremendously."
Bluebird feeders dot the blueberry patch for the same reason.
"Of course, any birds are good for eating mosquitoes and bugs," she said, unconcerned about sharing the berry bounty with hungry bluebirds.
First Fruits Blueberry Farm is located about four miles south of Park Rapids. The blueberry harvesting season generally runs three to four weeks, from mid-July to mid-August.
"If you leave here hungry, that's really your own fault," she joked.