SAMPSON COUNTY, N.C. — Ivanhoe Farms has been harvesting blueberries each June since they planted their first crop in 1941.
The current owners, Willie and Neil Moore, took over from their parents in the early 1980s, and they've expanded the operation to over 600 acres of blueberry fields. It's a lot to manage, but Willie Moore tackles the fields while his brother runs the packing house.
They say a good day of picking blueberries ends with 10,000 to 15,000 boxes ready to ship. But the process from field to table isn't what it used to be. In the last 15 years, Willie Moore said he's seen the industry change significantly as technology plays a bigger role.
“Back when I started in the business, we picked the berries in the field right into the container, and now the berries are harvested in the field, brought to the packing house and most every berry is looked at electronically at least twice,” Willie Moore said.
The history of blueberries in the U.S. stretches back long before people thought to grow them deliberately, but when people realized the soil just off the coast of North Carolina was perfect for blueberries, farms began to sprout up. The state now ranks sixth in the nation for blueberry production.
“It's a year-round job, basically,” Willie Moore said. “These plants are here, and you have to look at them year round. In the winter, we do a lot of trimming and mowing and that type of stuff to the plants, and in the spring you have to watch out for the spring freezes.”
The berry's health benefits as a superfood only serves to make it even more popular, and Willie Moore said North Carolina was all set to have a record crop this year until weather got in the way.
“The hailstorm affected probably about 40% of the market for North Carolina,” Willie Moore said. “Some of my friends, they just wiped out everything, took all the fruit off the plants. That's a significant chunk, at least 20 million pounds.”
The one thing that hasn't changed over the years is the unpredictability of Mother Nature, and Willie Moore said at Ivanhoe they've learned to take things in stride and reassess when necessary.
“It's farming — last year it rained everyday we picked, and this year it hadn't rained any days, except we've had two days,” Willie Moore said. “We'll have to evaluate and see where we go from there. With the rain it just slows production down.”
They do sell some of their blueberries in the nearby community, knowing people appreciate the family operation and supporting a local farm, but most of their crop is shipped all over the Eastern United States to blueberry lovers everywhere.
Wondering what to do with all those fresh blueberris? Check out this recipe from North Carolina Blueberrries. com:
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries remove all stems and then rinse
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 stick butter unsalted preferred melted
- 1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 400
In 8x8 baking pan put the blueberries, water.
Sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the blueberries
Make the crust by mixing the flour and remainder of the sugar together. Blend the egg into the mixture. Don't sweat a few lumps.
Spread flour, sugar and egg mixture over blueberries. (You can substitute your favorite crust or use a store bought prepared crust or prepared gluten free crust)
Drizzle melted butter over the flour, sugar and egg mixture. If necessary, gently heat butter so that it pours.
Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees until it's golden brown. About 45 minutes.
Let rest about 20 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream"