By JANE AMMESON
August 7, 2013
Bringing home the berries
Jestine Thomas, 77,
still farming 18 acres of blueberries
a hot summer day and Jestine Thomas of
Hartford has just returned from her blueberry
farm – make that two blueberry farms – where she she’s starting to
harvest Jerseys, a late crop berry.
It’s been a busy week for
Thomas. She just put 200 pounds of blueberries in the freezer for four
area restaurants – Coloma Café, Mill Creek Charlie, the Panel Room and
Copper Grill, which are all owned by her relatives – to use in the
winter for pies and cobblers.
The weeks before weren’t any
easier. Thomas also grows Berkeleys, a type of blueberry she says needs
to be picked by hand (the Jerseys luckily can be harvested by machine).
Between the Berkeleys and Jerseys, Thomas farms 18 acres and last year
harvested 105,000 pounds.
When thinking of all this hard work,
consider this: Jestine Thomas is 77 years old.
“I had one buyer
who said, ‘Jestine, why are you still doing this at your age?’” Thomas
says. “But it gives me something to get out of bed for and it keeps me
Thomas learned to farm at an early age.
“I was a
migrant,” she says. “We lived in Missouri and came to Michigan every
summer to pick fruit and when the season was over here, we’d go to
Indiana to pick tomatoes and then go back home. But then my dad got a
job at New Products and we stayed here.”
She was 17 when she met
18-year-old Dan, her future husband whose family had moved from Alabama
and had a farm in Watervliet.
Thomas says he would hunt with
“He came over to hunt with my dad,” she says
of their first meeting.
The two were married for 57 years and
had three children, all of whom now live within 3 miles of her and raise
blueberries as well.
Though both Dan and Jestine had farming
backgrounds, they didn’t start farming at first. Dan Thomas worked as a
master mechanic for a company in Benton Harbor, but when they closed
their doors, the couple moved to Hartford. Though Thomas had always been
a stay-at-home mom, she started working a couple of hours at the Tastee
Freeze in Hartford, a job that morphed into full time. The couple also
bought 10 acres for growing blueberries, eventually buying more farmland
until they were farming 50 acres. But as Dan became ill, they sold off
or rented much of their acreage. Now Thomas has two farms where she
raises blueberries and other crops, and she rents.
died in 2010 and I thought I’d keep the farm for two years and then sell
it,” Thomas says. “Now it’s been three years and I still have it, so I
guess I’ll keep it until I die.”
During the years since the
Thomases began growing blueberries, the fruit, considered a superfood,
has skyrocketed in popularity, with consumption going from 15.5 ounces
per capita in 1995 to 39.5 ounces per capita in 2011. And Michigan is
the No. 1 state in highbush blueberry production, with growers producing
more than 100 million pounds of blueberries every year, according the
Michigan Blueberry Growers Association.
“My mom still farms,
puts out a garden and she drives a Harvester,” says her daughter, Teresa
Babb of Hartford. Babb farms 15 acres of blueberries and works as a
school secretary at Red Arrow Elementary in Hartford. “She’ll stand at
the rows, picking blueberries that the machine didn’t get. Her
blueberries end up at Mc-Donald’s in the blueberry parfaits.”
Despite her hard work, Thomas also takes time to have fun. She recently
took some of her blueberries to the Lawrence Farmers Market to sell.
“I had a good time, seeing some people, listening to the music,” she
says. “I even did some singing.”
The following recipes are
courtesy of Jestine Thomas.
Don Campbell – HP
cups blueberries 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch
water 16-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
8 ounces cream cheese 1 cup powdered
sugar 16 ounce container Cool Whip 1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup self-rising four 2 tablespoons
sugar 3/4 cup margarine 1/2 cup chopped nuts
filling into bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Bake for 10
to 12 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.
Place blueberries, sugar, cornstarch and water into a heavy saucepan
and cook until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool. Add
drained pineapple. Mix. Add to cooled pie crust.
cheese and powdered sugar together. Then fold in container of Cool
Whip. Spread on top of blueberry mixture. Sprinkle chopped nuts.
1 pie crust, uncooked
1 cup flour
1/2 cup margarine
2 cups blueberries
|Preheat oven to 400
Place pie crust on the bottom of a pizza
pan. Crimp the edges as you would a pie. Mix sugar, flour,
margarine and cinnamon together. Place blueberries on the
pie crust. Sprinkle topping on top.
Bake at 400
degrees for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and
cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve as you would pizza.
Grand Prize winner of
the 2009 Berrien County Youth Fair Baked Fruit Pie Contest
1 crust pie pastry, your favorite recipe, baked
1/2 cup sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 20-ounce can
pineapple tidbits, liquid reserved 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract, optional 1/2 cup pineapple
juice Blueberry Filling:
3 cups blueberries 3/4 cup
sugar 2-3 tablespoons cornstarch 3 tablespoons butter,
1 cup flour 1/3 cup brown sugar 1/3
cup white sugar 1/2 cup butter, sliced 1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup flaked coconut, optional 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon melted butter 1 cup
confectioners’ sugar Dash of lemon or pineapple juice
Filling: In large saucepan on medium heat, combine
sugar and cornstarch. Add pineapple and lemon juices and
coconut extract. Stir constantly, bringing mixture to a boil
and cook for 1 more minute. Cool. Then add pineapple. Pour
into cooled pie shell. Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight, then
continue to make blueberry filling when pineapple is cooled
Blueberry filling: Combine
blueberries, sugar and cornstarch in large bowl. Let set for
10 minutes to dissolve sugars. Pour berry mixture into large
saucepan on medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened and
take off heat and let cool 10 minutes while you mix up
Topping: Mix sugars and flour.
Cut in butter to make small crumbs. Add nuts, coconut and
cinnamon and mix.
Mix ingredients until glaze is at desired drizzling
To assemble: Pour blueberry
filling over pineapple filling, to make second layer. Dot
with butter and sprinkle topping over top of filling. Bake
at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until filling bubbles
and topping is golden. Let pie cool drizzle with glaze.