News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 19, 2012

MARK BENNETT: Hoosier Blueberry Ranch helping local festival beat the drought

TERRE HAUTE — Most front yards look like a lunar soil sample from Apollo 11. So, it’s hard to imagine a blueberry festival being stocked by fresh fruit grown right here in Indiana.

The words “drought” and “blueberries” clash. One conjures images of dried-up streams and dusty farm fields. The other sounds sweet and juicy.

Impossible as it seems, they can co-exist.

In the midst of a near-record Midwest drought, today’s fourth annual Terre Foods Cooperative Market Blueberry Fest at Central Presbyterian Church in Terre Haute will feature 1,500 pounds of certified-organic fruit, grown at the Blueberry Ranch, situated between the towns of Granger and Mishawaka in St. Joseph County. Terre Foods volunteers Dave Voltmer and Rob Bunch drove four hours north on Wednesday to pick up the fresh berries from John Nelson’s farm, and hoped to return by early evening.

Organizers had a hard time finding locally produced blueberries that would be ripe and plentiful enough for their mid-July festival. The brutal weather — from an early-spring frost to the scorching, arid summer — left central-Indiana farms unable to supply the Terre Haute fest, said Holly Hudson, a Terre Foods steering committee member. Voltmer, who sits on that same committee, found the Blueberry Ranch online.

An order of 1,500 pounds of blueberries? No problem, Nelson told Voltmer.

“No hesitation at all,” Voltmer said of the farmer’s assurance.

Then, with the drought in mind, Voltmer added, “I don’t know how he did it.”

The answer comes from above, as in water — not from the sky, but from an overhead irrigation system. That mechanism allowed fruit on the bushes at Blueberry Ranch to survive the April frost and continue ripening through steamy, rainless June and July. Several of Nelson’s fellow blueberry growers never had the chance to take on the drought, and left their markets closed after freezing spring temperatures mortally wounded their fruit.

“It’s safe to say, if you didn’t have overhead irrigation this season, chances are you have a significantly reduced crop,” Nelson said by cellphone Wednesday from the farm.

During frost, the system continually wets the berries, a process that gives off heat and protects the fruit, Nelson said. During drought, it cools and moistens the blueberries. The farm has plenty of water for irrigation, because the region sits on one of the nation’s largest aquifers, he explained. As a result, Blueberry Ranch has 100 percent of its crop intact, though some of the berries are “a little bit smaller” because of the high air temperatures.

“It’s a wonderful crop,” said Sue Cooper, who oversees the Blueberry Ranch’s “U-pick” service, where customers harvest their own berries at the farm, which opened in 1953.

The berries were packed up and ready for Voltmer and Bunch on Wednesday.

The 460-mile round trip stretched Terre Foods’ principle of using “local” produce, Voltmer said. Still, while Mishawaka and Granger are not exactly in the Wabash Valley, they are 100-percent Hoosier towns. Also, Blueberry Ranch is a 100-percent, USDA-certified organic farm, which is another Terre Foods core principle. “That is a plus for us,” said Hudson. “We would’ve liked to have kept it a little bit closer, but welcome to the challenges of weather.”

Such a concept inherently involves a bit of living on the edge. The berries, just harvested a day or two earlier in St. Joseph County near the Indiana-Michigan border, are driven through the afternoon to Terre Haute (by Bunch and Voltmer, this year), stored overnight inside Central Presbyterian Church, and then served raw or on ice cream sundaes in drought-stricken Vigo County the next day.

Nobody said “fresh” and “local” would necessarily mean “easy.”

The effort matters to Terre Foods members and others who support the idea of healthy eating, locally grown and consumed foods, and community sustainability. Since launching in 2007, Terre Foods has gained 446 members, just shy of its goal of 600. Ultimately, it intends to open a member-owned food business. It will be a “democratically controlled store, owned by the community members,” Hudson said. “That’s the blessing and the challenge.”

The Blueberry Fest offers the group a moment of visibility, and an opportunity to inspire new members, Hudson said. It has easy appeal for the general public, too. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients, blueberries also — and, get this — taste good. It’s like eating Brussels sprouts that taste like a Snickers bar.

The berries meet the people today, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., as volunteers will serve blueberry sundaes at $5 apiece, and ice cream for $2. Quarts of blueberries will also be available at $7, with a limit of two per person until later in the day. Last year, Terre Foods sold 1,000 sundaes, and all 1,500 pounds of blueberries. Organizers say the two-quart limit will help prevent running out of fruit for customers wanting sundaes before early evening.

As in their growing season, blueberries require care and protection after harvest, too.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local & Bistate
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' A Young Victim's Premonition, Hug Before MH17 Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Today in History for July 25th
NDN Video
What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity