Heart of Louisiana: Blueberry picking at Hillcrest Farm

Blueberry pickers at Hillcrest Farm
Blueberry pickers at Hillcrest Farm

Desoto Parish, La. - There are acres and acres of both blueberries and plump blackberries.  You can fill a kid-sized bucket for four dollars and spend a few hours roaming the fields of the Hillcrest Blueberry Farm.

John and Kathy Guillory of Harahan made the drive to Shreveport to visit their daughter and grandson.  They ended up collecting buckets of blueberries.

"We don't have something like this in New Orleans," says Kathy Guillory.  "This is just a novelty. It's just wonderful to come out here in nature.  And it's quiet, you can hear the birds."

The family picking will continue at this northwest Louisiana berry farm into early July.

Hillcrest Farm's Daye Alexander says, "I have families that plan their vacations that live off in California, that live in New York, a family that lives in Corpus Christi… and they plan their vacations around coming and picking."

Alexander and her husband own and operate the farm, with 139 acres of blueberries and another three acres of blackberries.  All of these fields used to comprise the family dairy farm. About 20 years ago, the Alexanders decided to make the switch from dairy to berry.

"My husband was reading an article and dairy farming was kind of phasing out around this area," says Alexander.  "They planted some blueberries and it took about six years to get a good production off of it."

This farm will produce a half-million pounds of blueberries this year. Most of that is picked by a large machine that shakes the fruit off the bushes. Those berries then are sorted – the leaves are blown off and a computerized color wheel targets the colors you don't want.

"It shoots out anything in that color spectrum with a shot of air," says Alexander.  "That pop, pop, pop you hear is the shot of air, shooting those colors out."

The blueberries pass through a sizer, and then the less-than-perfect berries are swept away before people make the final inspection.

"You cannot replace a human eyeball saying that's no good, that's no good," Alexander insists.

Up to 3,500 pints of blueberries a day are shipped off to high-end grocery stores, mostly in the Dallas area.  This is where the profits are made.  But the fun is out here, where families can do something out of the ordinary -- spend a couple of hours on a farm, picking and filling buckets of berries.

The blueberry picking should last through July 4.

By the way, Hillcrest Farm owner Daye Alexander has a quite a few blueberry recipes.  But she says her favorite is "blueberry lemonade":

1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 1/2 cups of lemon juice
1 quart of fresh blueberry juice
Place all ingredients in a gallon container then fill the rest with water.
If you use fresh blueberry juice there will be no pulp or seeds plus it takes much less time to make the lemonade!
Yield: 1 gallon
Courtesy: Daye Alexander