Pearl River Blues brings out the berries, organically

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RIPE FRUIT: From left, Cirilo Villa and Amy Phelps raise blueberries organically at Pearl River Blues Berry Farm, located near Lumberton. Photo by Jeremy Pittari

RIPE FRUIT: From left, Cirilo Villa and Amy Phelps raise blueberries organically at Pearl River Blues Berry Farm, located near Lumberton.
Photo by Jeremy Pittari

Just outside of Lumberton sits a five-acre farm that grows four varieties of blueberries the organic way.

Amy Phelps, co-owner of the farm, said she and her husband bought the farm about 14 years ago when they wanted to get married and take up farming.

The couple previously worked in the field of journalism at the Washington Post, Phelps said. Their background in journalism is what led them to avoid using pesticides and only use organic fertilizers. Phelps said she fertilizes her blueberry bushes using fish emulsion, kelp and molasses. They avoid spraying pesticides to protect their main pollinators, bees.

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Four varieties of blueberries are grown at the farm, Tiff Blues, Premiers, Brightwells and Climax. Phelps said each variety has unique pros and cons, and at times those variances have saved their farm when weather and other conditions wreak havoc with a specific species.

Phelps and her team sell their crops at farmers markets as far away as New Orleans, but they also allow customers to pick their own. Phelps estimates about 25 percent of the blueberries sold are picked by the customer.

The team, which includes co-owner Cirilo Villa, worked for five years to certify the farm as organic. However, the state of Mississippi dissolved the position that provides that certification, making it costly to call in an out-of-state certifier, Phelps said. To this day they still grow everything on the farm organically, but now they can’t call their crops “certified organic”.

Blueberries are the main crop, but many other plants are grown on their land. Phelps said she likes to try her hand at different vegetables and even flowers. This season she is growing oats, squash, tomatoes, corn and watermelon, in addition to flower varieties.

Everything is hand grown and picked. Tools employed at the farm include a variety of hoes, with many unique applications.

“These are all the hoes I’ve known and loved,” Phelps said jovially as she showed the crowd the various gardening tools she employs in her farming, including the diamond head, stirrup and half moon hoes.

But the best tools are the hands, Villa said.

Villa said they also employ the services of a few animals to help with the pest control, such as cats to keep the rodent problem at bay and dogs to prevent wild hogs and raccoons from eating the crops.

As with all small farms, the struggle is producing a crop each year, which is essential in order to have the funds to start a new crop the following year, Villa said.

Another interesting part of their farm is the chicken tractor, which is essentially a movable chicken coop. The coop is moved around their grass field and allows the birds to eat the grass while providing fertilizer. Eggshells are used as fertilizer for some of the crops they grow, such as the tomatoes.

Blueberry harvest season may begin this weekend, but be sure to check their website for updated information.

Villa said the trick to picking the berries is to look for ones that fall off easy. If they are picked prematurely essential nutrients are lost. Harvest season generally runs from May to July, but this season the berries are coming in late, Villa said.

For $10 patrons can pick a gallon of berries. Pearl River Blues asks that pickers bring their own container and to set aside about 45 minutes if they want to pick a full gallon.

Pearl River Blues is located at 24 Curt Rester Rd., near Lumberton. To find out when their season officially begins and for a list of tips to prepare for your visit, go to their website at