Little berry packing sweet punch for Meridian residents

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, July 19, 2007

One of the frequent customers at the Johnson Blueberry Farm in Suqualena is a 100-year old woman who just loves fresh blueberries. Another regular customer brings her children with her whenever she wants a gallon or two of the sweet, succulent berries.

Joe and Robin Johnson have watched children grow up on their farm as over the years they keep returning on a regular basis to pick the blueberries from the bushes. Some return home to make jams and jellies while others bake blueberry pie or muffins. No matter what the harvest is used for, the growing popularity of blueberries is growing.

“Most people around here are familiar with the huckleberry but it wasn’t until after Hurricane Camille in 1969 that blueberries began to find their way to Mississippi,” said Joe Johnson. “Blueberries were slow to catch on but we’ve seen over the past several years more and more people who are interested and searching us out.”

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Joe Johnson said the first blueberry bushes were brought in from southern Georgia and northern Florida in the early 1970s.

The Johnson Blueberry Farm, located at 11624 Suqualena Road off Mississippi Hwy. 19 North, began in 1982 with about 150 bushes. Now there are over 1,000 bushes boasting 11 varieties of blueberries.

“We have some that come in early, usually in June, and other varieties that come in a little later,” Robin Johnson said. “That’s so we can stretch out the time for people to come by and pick as many as they want.”

Pick they do.

Joe Johnson said people from Tennessee and Texas time their trips through this part of Mississippi so they can pick a couple of gallons of blueberries. It is the people themselves, as much as the joy of working the blueberry farm, that has contributed to the continued success of the farm.

“We love meeting people,” Joe Johnson said simply. “Working the farm is a lot of hard work. We don’t use any kind of chemicals on the bushes unless we absolutely have to. That is so we can keep the berries as fresh as possible. But talking to the people, helping them out with picking the berries, it’s just a relaxing atmosphere.”

It is that word of mouth that has helped contribute to the popularity of blueberries. Another big help is the fact fresh blueberries are much more sweet than their grocery store counterparts. Joe Johnson said many people have told him they weren’t really keen on blueberries because all they really knew of them in terms of taste was what they had been given from a store. He maintained if that same person picked and then ate a fresh blueberry right off the bush, their view would change as soon as the sweet juices touched their tongue.

“Fresher is always better,” Joe Johnson said.