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First Fruits berries ready for harvest

Debbie Yennie asks all blueberry pickers to call 732-1958 (the harvest line) for times and directions before heading out to First Fruits Blueberry Farm. She anticipates harvest will begin Saturday, July 27. The berries will also be available at Carter’s Red Wagon and Meadowbrook in Dorset. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

By Jean Ruzicka

A “grand reopening” is on the horizon as July comes to an end.

Pick up a bucket and head to a quaint farm in Hubbard County’s southern domain.

First Fruits Blueberry Farm’s orbs, battered by intemperate weather in recent years, are making a comeback.

And the gardener behind the operation, Debbie Yennie, is welcoming berry pickers on the three-acre farm adjoining Fair Havens Golf Course beginning July 27.

The 4,000 bushes, planted a quarter century ago, experienced winter kill in 2003 and were in “recovery” for several years.

Yennie and husband Michael purchased the property in 2009, the plants subsequently “babied and pruned.” They opened in the 2011 season but last year’s drought impaired progress.

Michael had questioned his wife’s sanity, believing the berries to have met their demise.

But she was undaunted. Departing from her “stressful job,” she headed out the farm in the afternoons, “to pray and sing.”

She was heard.

The 77 rows of hybrid bushes, with assistance from a University of Minnesota “blueberry guru,” are now out of dormancy.

No pesticides are used, Yennie stresses. The plants are without insect problems and disease, the U of M agronomist reported. And new growth is emerging.

The bushes – St. Cloud, Northern Sky, Northern Blue and Polaris - are expected to produce between one to five pounds of berries each, she said. They are still in recovery. Yennie estimates just 20 percent of the bushes will produce five pounds.

Inspired by the book of Nehemiah, the proceeds from First Fruits’ first day will be donated to a Christian charity, $885 given to World Vision in 2011. This year’s beneficiary has not yet been determined. “I’ll involve my grandkids in the decision,” she said.

Plans call for starting to harvest before the heat of the sun becomes oppressive and be open seven days a week, “depending on weather or fruit.”

She asks all berry pickers to call 732-1958 for updated info on dates, times and directions before heading to the farm (signs will be posted). The farm is located four miles south of Park Rapids off Highway 87.

Pre-picked and/or delivered berries are available upon request.

Yennie encourages participation from families, and doesn’t dissuade sampling by the young ’uns. “I’ll weigh them going in, and weigh them going out,” she joked of the kids’ intake.

Containers are available, or bring your own. Restrooms are on site. She offers advice on the readiness of the fruit (the underside of the berry will turn from pink to fully blue when it’s ready for picking.)

And she has recipes to share.

Blueberries, Yennie points out, have the highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit and can lower blood cholesterol levels while improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Studies have shown them to preserve vision and enhance brain health.

“I love the serenity,” she said of her domain. “And hearing the stories.”

She tells of two women who arrived confessing they had not picked berries in years. As kids, their father had a strict rule: Don’t come out of the woods without a pail full. And it was a huge one.

“We hated it,” they told her.

But they arrived, accompanied by their mother who remained in the car, because their father had passed away. She wanted to revive the memory of her girls picking berries again.

Their countenance had changed from the teen girls of long ago, Yennie said of the genial adult berry pickers.

“God gave us berries,” Yennie said.

And she intends to share the gift.