Each month, MSAN will highlight one of the many hard-working producers here in Mississippi making a difference in their communities by committing to natural, sustainable, and regenerative models of agriculture. It’s not just about good food; it’s about good people.
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“Getting dirty here is a different kind of dirty than interviewing senators and politicians in Washington, D.C.,” owner Amy Phelps says of her blueberry farm. She and her husband left their jobs as journalists in Washington, D.C. and decided to pursue their dream of farming in the South. After searching for the right fit, that dream manifested itself when they assumed ownership over a blueberry farm in Lumberton, MS. With patience, an affinity for learning, and a lot of help from friends and family, this farm has grown into an idyllic place full of love and laughter and delicious blueberries.
Plenty of that help comes from Amy’s co-manager Cirilo Villa who brings expertise and good vibes to the blueberries and other crops grown on site. In addition to the berries, each year the garden grows larger and includes a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers for market. Amy and Cirilo have developed a system over the years that keeps the farm organic and stays far away from the harsh chemicals and treatments that Amy specifically set out to avoid. She grew up in the chemical laden Plaquemines Parish of Louisiana and witnessed too many family members get terminally ill as a result of their use.
Deciding to take pest and weed control into their own hands, the two vowed to stay true to their feelings that if they worked hard and gave back to the Earth and all its creatures, they would take care of her farm and her produce in return. When asked about the importance of organics and sustainability, Cirilo says that it’s deeper than just the words. “It’s the love and respect of nature. We do what we can to live and connect with where we live.” In this spirit, they have chickens to fertilize as they control pests and collect eggs daily from the flock. They also grow native plants as cover crops to cut down on the need to fertilize, as well as supplementing with molasses, kelp meal, and fish emulsion to nourish the plants naturally.
On a visit to this farm, you will witness skilled pickers tickling berries from their stem; Linda, an employee from Malawi, serenading the plants, encouraging them to reach up to the sun; and the chickens pecking their way around their moveable mansion. Passion, flexibility, and positivity is key to Pearl River Blues’ success, and it inspires many of their ventures into new products. For example, after the devastation of Katrina, many friends and family members stayed at the farm waiting to see what was left of their houses back home. The cut-flower business developed out of the need to see something beautiful despite the harsh tragedy.
Pearl River Blues is a lesson in diversity, sustainability and working in synch with the Earth rather than trying to manipulate it without regard for long-term effects. They sell to restaurants and farmers markets but their greatest joy comes from the U-Pick berry option in the summer. They look forward to the growth of MSAN because, as Amy says, “the better organized we are, it makes us stronger as growers and eaters.”
By Claire Campbell, MSAN Intern
Photos by Danny Klimetz