Food | July 2014
30 years of bountiful blueberry crops shows that green thumbs run in the Traicoff family
Story by L. Taylor Smith
Photos by Harrison Lingo
The plump berries of the Nesbit Blueberry Plantation have been slowly ripening, all while braving a stormy summer intermingled with long stretches of scorching heat. Until the day comes when the 30 or so acres of verdant bushes are ready for scores of DeSoto County residents to fill their buckets, the Traicoff family will be preparing for the inundation of the berry-hungry masses. George Traicoff is the patriarch of the Nesbit Blueberry Plantation family. He purchased the land from a neighbor in the late 1970s. "It was well grown when we bought it," Traicoff says. "The boys and I cleaned it up and started planting. It took seven or eight months to get it to where we could do something."
The first fruits came in 1984, making this year the 30th anniversary of the Nesbit Blueberry Plantation. Although they now have several hundred people comingeach day to enjoy the beautiful scenery and delicious fruit, it wasn't always as simple as swinging open the gate. "When we first opened, we couldn't give the daggum things away, but, over time people started coming," Traicoff says. "People came in here and were very, very surprised they were on bushes." His oldest daughter, Terri, was in high school when the plantation begantaking root in the community, and she has watched the crowd of pickers shift from older people to young families eager to learn more about agriculture. "We want the families to come, we want them to enjoy being away from the city, see how things are grown, have the experience of a farm and do something together," she says. "That's as important as the premium product."
The Nesbit Blueberry Plantation feels like a large backyard, with bright blue picnic tables in just the right spot underneath the canopy of trees and a tranquil pond not a berry's throw away from the bushes. Despite their surge in success over the past decade —thanks in part to recent focuses on health — the Traicoff family stays staunchly true to keeping things family focused. "The most frequent question we got when we first started was ‘Can kids come?’and that amazed me," Traicoff says. "That's what it's for, and they come and eat them off the bush." Terri teaches at St. Joseph's in Madison, Mississippi, and returns every summer to help with the harvest. All eight grandchildren, including her three sons, grew up working on the plantation during the summer, and long-time pickers have watched the family grow up with the crop.
Keeping the operation within the family means they're limited in how much they can expand, but Terri doesn't see that as problem because it means they can focus on giving visitors the best experience possible. "The first thing is that people have a great time," Terri says. "We tag the buckets and bring them up to the front so you don't have to carry them, and we bag them up, and we check on you. When you're through with your bush, we take you to the next one so nobody feels lost. Somebody is always in the field and by the roadway."For those interested in picking blueberries this summer, Traicoffsays to check the Facebook and Twitter accounts often for updates.
Terri says while there's no special equipment needed for blueberry picking, visitors are advised to wear comfortable shoes and a hat to keep from getting sunburned. They have water and cups on hand, but visitors are welcome to bring a lunch. Once the berries are ripe enough, the plantation will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For the 2014 season, it's $12 a gallon to pick and $20 a gallon for a pre-picked bucket of berries.