The Blueberry Years: An Ode to Farming and Family

Reviewed by Kara Dodson

The story of Jim and Sarah Minick’s years managing a blueberry farm read as sweet as a warm, ripe berry plucked from the bush. The courageous and loving young homesteaders recount ten years of preparing, planting, and picking to bring alive a shared dream: an organic, pick-your-own blueberry farm in Floyd County, Va., that welcomes seasoned pickers and newcomers alike.

In “The Blueberry Years,” Minick poetically recalls young pickers’ first buckets, breakfasts in the field, and a sun-struck worm who saved the farm. Split into five parts and very short chapters, the book is a breeze to read, each page offering small insights into the lives of two young teachers-turned-farmers.

I wasn’t expecting to reach personal epiphanies from a blueberry farm memoir. Bur Minick’s patient prose draws you in until you are part of his challenges, his successes and his shortcomings.

The first surprise hits in chapter one when a hasty delivery man, alarmed by how backcountry the area was, unloaded a thousand blueberry bushes on the side of the road. The unfamiliar farmers were left hauling the precious “kids” to a creekside home still in pots. Two months later the plants were nestled in the newly plowed field down the road from the farmhouse, each given a simple prayer: “Grow, little plant.”

Over the course of the book, Jim and Sarah welcome hundreds of pickers to their rural retreat to share laughs, stories and lots of blueberries. They nourished the land to make a living and cultivated communities to strengthen the web of life. To me, this is true Appalachia.

There are dark parts among the sunny stories. Fearing the “failure of this blueberry dream of a farm” and feeling loneliness hovering, the Minicks reach out for friendship within church communities and hippy communes. But lasting friendships are only found when they’re not sought out, much like that perfect berry that Minick aptly describes as an “elemental, unrefined, sun-water-earth-and-air-created color of blue.”

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