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Volunteers pick blueberries from a research farm for local food banks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In rural North Carolina, a research farm grows new blueberry varieties for gardeners and farmers alike. And the berries - well, they have to be harvested. Reporter Kelly Kenoyer from member station WHQR went along on a recent picking.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: So excited, I didn't bring my bucket.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I left it out there.

KELLY KENOYER, BYLINE: About 30 people gather near a blueberry field to listen to researcher Bill Cline. He offers the best technique for gathering the fruit.

BILL CLINE: Attach the bucket so that you have both hands free to pick. Just cup your hands, roll them off with your thumbs and down into the bucket.

KENOYER: This research farm is part of North Carolina State University, and the fruit isn't sold. It's donated, and these volunteers are here to help.

CLINE: And you might get to take a blueberry or two home at the end of the deal, so really appreciate your being out here.

KENOYER: In the field, I start picking next to Ellen Bonzak, a master gardener from Pender County.

Are you excited about getting to eat them while you pick them?

ELLEN BONZAK: I was going to wait so people wouldn't see me, you know?

KENOYER: (Laughter).

BONZAK: Shoving them down my neck here.

KENOYER: I think we all know what this is about.

(LAUGHTER)

KENOYER: Bonzak is one of a group of master gardeners picking today. To them, the research farm is a unique opportunity to learn. As the buckets fill with blueberries, Cline brings out more boxes for transport to the food bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUEBERRIES ROLLING)

KENOYER: They make a great sound going in the box.

CLINE: They really do.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #2: Oh, yeah, they do.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUEBERRIES ROLLING)

KENOYER: They are the largest blueberries I've ever seen. Cline says this variety is called Pinnacle. It can grow to the size of a quarter.

CLINE: It is not widely planted. It's not a real high yielder, but what it does have is exceptional flavor and size.

KENOYER: On this 50-acre farm, there are thousands of bushes of different varieties being tested at any time. Cline says it's a big effort to find a new breed with the ideal traits of climate adaptability, disease resistance, yield and flavor.

CLINE: It takes a lot of time and patience to develop.

KENOYER: Blueberries aren't typically sold under a named variety like apples are. Instead, the kind we find in stores changes every three or four weeks as each planting completes its harvest, starting from Florida and going up to Maine. Regardless of the type, there's nothing like eating berries right off the bush, warmed by the sun.

How are they?

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #3: They're very delicious.

KENOYER: Good (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #3: Would you like to try one?

KENOYER: Oh, I have.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #3: Oh, yeah.

KENOYER: Don't worry (laughter).

For NPR News, I'm Kelly Kenoyer in Castle Hayne, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAREN MORRIS SONG, "THE FEELS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kelly Kenoyer
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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