Demand, farming conditions look to be behind state's blueberry boom

It's being called the little blue dynamo because it seems to have super powers that help fight cancer and improve vision. It's a food so amazing that you could get skinnier by eating it.

It seems everyone is talking blueberries these days. The super food is even being incorporated into fast food. They may have gone mainstream, but Coosaw Farms in South Carolina is the root of the wonder fruit.

"Every May I get excited," Angela O'Neal Chappell said. "I get to eat what I grow."

Chappell grew up on the fourth generation farm. She and her brother, now parents themselves, help run the place. It's their way of life and it has been that way before "farm-to-table" restaurants and farmers markets were in vogue.

"It's always been cool to me," Chappell said. "We've always been proud children that our father is a farmer."

For years, Coosaw, which straddles the Allendale/Hampton County line, has been known for watermelons. Not anymore.

"They're coming in from the field, we're picking them, cooling them down quickly, and then they're going to be in the grocery store within 24-48 hours of picking, so you're going to have a clamshell of blueberries that are probably some of the freshest you've ever eaten," Chappell said.

It seems the blueberry craze has worked to the Coosaw farmers' advantage. In only six seasons of planting, Coosaw is now the state's largest producer of blueberries. They ship regularly to Earth Fare, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Publix.

At Coosaw, they work all year just for a few weeks worth of blueberries -- 6 weeks in fact. The end of blueberry season is in just a couple of weeks and the beautiful bushes will soon be bare.

But the statewide popularity is just beginning. The hype is as well.

Ansley Turnblad, a representative with the state Department of Agriculture, says there's been a significant increase in blueberry production in the state.

"I'd say we're probably close to the 500 acre mark, give or take a few," Turnblad said. "Many of those farms are from the last 5-10 years."

Turnblad says the conditions for blueberry growth are right from Horry County to the Lowcountry where Coosaw is. Southern high bush are the popular state varietal and are known for a lot of taste and very little grit.

So while supply, demand and farming conditions are perfect for blueberries at the moment, Chappell hopes the hype will continue.

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