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From Pickers to Pint: A Visit to Black Pearl Farms

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From Pickers to Pint: A Visit to Black Pearl Farms
Photos by Christina Oxford

The dust rolls behind us on the sandy lane into Black Pearl Farms, and when we step into the late afternoon, cicadas are the loudest sound, their summer soundtrack coming from pine trees separating the fields. There are a few people in the field closest to the packing house, picking blueberries by hand, their Spanish pop music, which I can hear, is wafting over the rows since the air is still. We’ve arrived at one of the only organic blueberry farms in the state, located in Branchville, South Carolina, and the early varieties are going to the packing house and will be in area stores the next day.

Originally a recreational camp, owner David Anderson noticed wild blueberries flourishing on the land, and he began to slowly experiment and transform the camp into a working farm. And it’s easy to see “the land from whence it came” since Black Pearl Farms is Certified Organic by Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry. It focuses on using renewable resources, conserving soil and water, taking advantage of the natural climate, and preserving the harmonious biodiversity surrounding the river. So the fields don’t look plopped down or carved out. They seem natural, like they belong to this place.

What strikes me about Black Pearl Farms is the calmness. There aren’t large industrial machines whirring and shaking the bushes—there are quiet murmurs of pickers chatting. The blueberries themselves don’t make clanging noises as they’re poured out of buckets—they softly land on each other. There aren’t people screaming orders or directing tasks—everyone seems to know what they are doing and what to do next.

The packing house is the place to be. It’s cool. Keeping the berries cool is a number one priority, as heat leads to spoilage (or cooking). Once again, it’s quiet, two people pouring out the blueberries onto a conveyor belt, then lots of hands going through them as they move slowly past. Quality control.

This is what handpicked means, and the next day when I spy the clear plastic pints in the grocery store five minutes from my home, I have a new appreciation and remember the fields and the people working to put these berries on the shelf. I buy two pints.

Black Pearl Farms grows a few varieties of blueberries, and they are all packaged under the Black Pearl label. They are all certified organic and choosing different varieties helps extend the growing season for the farm. Each variety is grown in its own field and are never mixed together at the packing house.

Blueberry Varieties

DUKE
Northern Highbush introduced in 1987 by the USDA New Jersey

EMERALD
Southern Highbush introduced in 2001 by the University of Florida (early variety)

STAR
Southern Highbush introduced in 1996 by the University of Florida (early variety)

LEGACY MOST POPULAR
Southern Highbush introduced in 1993 by the USDA and Rutgers University

O’NEAL
Southern Highbush introduced in 1987 by NC State University