Taken from The New Orleans Advocate Article
Written July 04, 2014 By Deborah Burst | Special to The Advocate
Riding his golf cart past rows of blueberry bushes, Chris Pinto stops for a quick snack, picking plump purple berries straight from the bush. This is his kingdom and the height of blueberry season.
Pinto grew up in New Orleans, graduated from Holy Cross High School, and received an accounting degree from LSU and a master’s in finance from Tulane. He was president of a privately held pharmaceutical company and has now managed investments for the past 10 years.
He purchased the pine forest in 2004, developed it into a farm and opened it to the public in 2008.
“I guess you could say that I’m a professional investor with a blueberry hobby that got way out of control,” he said. “My blueberry farm has become the most rewarding professional endeavor, and in many ways is a complete picture of who I am as a person.”
He spent a summer during his college years in middle Georgia and was exposed to pecan and peach farms. Awed by the beauty, he vowed that one day he would live in a pecan orchard.
“After doing some research on the pecan orchard, I decided on blueberries. Though not as pretty, a blueberry field can produce a profitable crop that can be grown organically,” Pinto explained. “I was originally going to grow blueberries commercially, but found after opening the farm to family and friends that the U-pick model could be more personally rewarding.”
St. Tammany Parish is known for its acidic soil, and Pinto says a good blueberry crop needs full sun and well-drained acidic soil. The biggest challenge is accepting the fact that Mother Nature has total control.
“Last year we lost 70 percent of the crop because of a freeze one night in late March,” Pinto explained. “This year, the rains continue to pound my field, and although the berries are great, my field doesn’t have the well-manicured park look.”
It’s a family affair. Pinto’s wife, Rachel, and his two younger children, Wyatt, 13, and Sophie, 9, work on the farm. His oldest son, Joshua, now 23, works part time.
“I usually supplement my family with about three or four other workers who help out with check-in and parking,” he said. “My brother-in-law also helps manage the pickers in the field and makes Michael’s pickles and blueberry jellies made from the farm’s berries and sold at the farm.”
But Pinto admits it’s more than a farm; he works hard at developing the Blue Harvest park-like sanctuary appeal. He talks about the rabbits and squirrels that munch on the blueberries that fall to the ground, and the beehive boxes in the back corner.
“The bees are the ones that do all the work; they are the reason we are here,” he said with a smile looking out across the rows of bushes heavy with ripe berries. “A great crop of blues is just icing on the cake.”
Approximately 10,000 people have passed through the farm, and Pinto says most harvest more than five gallons (30 pounds) over the course of the season. Some have picked as much as 100 pounds and keep them frozen year round.
“This farm is so much more than the blueberries. People experience nature and create memories with their children, parents and friends; and some come alone for that peace in the field,” he said. “Our field is big enough that you can get away and find a happy place listening to the birds during the twilight picks.”
Deborah Burst writes about people behind-the-scenes of organizations and events in St. Tammany Parish. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.