Rhonda Shumaker and Joe Gouveia are keeping count: As of Friday morning, more than 2.3 million blueberries, totaling 3.9 tons had been picked from the rows of bushes at the farm on Rocky Point Avenue.
And that’s just a start.
Rhonda says there are a lot more berries to be picked, actually millions more. She estimated 50 percent of the crop is ready for picking and that only 10 to 20 percent of the full crop has been picked.
“Some think we have been all picked out, but that’s not the case,” she said.
The farm opens at 7 a.m. and it’s not long thereafter that cars are pulled off the road and into the shade along Rocky Point Avenue. People are out to beat the heat and comb the bushes laden with clusters of blues.
For some pickers, this is a tradition and they come prepared to gather enough berries to carry them through the year. For others, like Rhonda Hastings, who arrived shortly before 8, it was about the experience and savoring more than a couple of plump freshly picked berries. Hastings works at Chapel by the Sea in Conimicut. As part of planning and organizing wedding parties, she said she is amazed by the variety of places to visit and things to do locally – even picking blueberries.
Owners Rhonda Shumaker and Joe Gouveia are also relative newcomers when it comes to the berries. Federal and state funds for the preservation of open space and farmlands were keys to saving the farm. With Mark and Betty Garrison’s sale of the development rights to the Department of Environmental Management, the Garrisons were able to achieve their goal to keep the 8.5 acres from development and transfer it to a couple that was anxious for a change of lifestyle.
Joe is a retired engineer from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and Rhonda was executive director of the South County Art Association.
Joe smiles when asked if farming is everything he hoped for.
“It’s even better than that,” he said.
As they did last year, they bought a “quad” of bumble bees – about 1,200 of them – to pollinate the crop. The bees arrived by UPS and, as Rhonda said, the deliveryman left the buzzing package on their doorstep and “split.”
Rhonda said it’s difficult to know, but she believes this year’s harvest may surpass last year’s, assuming, of course, that pickers get to the berries before they fall from the bushes.
David Smith was there Friday morning to ensure at least some of the berries wouldn’t go to waste. Mark Garrison is out of town and wanted to make sure he had his year’s supply of berries. David was picking for Mark and he was out to pick 40 pounds.