Next to California, West Michigan boasts the second most diverse agricultural output of any place in the U.S. We get to enjoy the corn and pumpkins, soybeans, apples, and, most important to this blogger, blueberries. Late July is the season to pick, and with a girlfriend who’d never gotten the chance and a free Saturday afternoon to spend together, we set off into the countryside.
The blueberry patch has always held a prized place in my memory. My grandmother would take us cousins out and show us how to cup our hands beneath a cluster and work only the ripe ones off with our thumbs. I remembered the way a really big one would look, like a prize goose or a miniature doughnut, hanging just out of reach. It’d always fascinated me how you could leave marks, simply by pressing lightly into the white powdery skin of an untouched berry. I’d made it my professional goal to get the berry into the bucket, unmarked by my touch, or if it was blemished, I’d rub the white layer completely away, displaying a shiny, deep blue morsel, bursting with that flavor that only exists in berries warmed in the sun until just before being eaten. And perhaps paramount to all the other tiny euphoric picking moments is the rush of sneaking berries into your mouth, secretly. If you’ve picked before, you know. It’s too hard to take the high road and refrain from this decadence. The farmer won’t miss a few.
And find them we did. We ended up at VenRoy Blueberries, a family affair about 20 minutes from Grand Haven, in Coopersville. The land is beautiful. Country roads lie in a grid, with vast fields cut out between patches of woods. Here, you pass a few houses, a barn and a few silos, there, an old, white-washed country church.
VenRoy’s didn’t disappoint. We got buckets, hanging them around our necks, walked to the far edge of the patch where the bushes were laden with berries, and dug in. I’d spend twenty minutes on one bush, my veteran thumbs a-picking, while my girlfriend hopped from bush to bush, continually finding better and better bushes to work. An hour and a half slipped away as we picked, silently, delighted, in our own tiny bush worlds. We’d talk, check each other’s progress and resume, a few bushes apart. Just picking. The plunk-plunk-plunk of berries falling into empty buckets became the muffled pitter patter of berries falling on berries. By the end, we each had several pints hanging from around our necks. The sun was noticeably lower now, beating hot from the blue expanse above us. They’d be closing soon.
We weighed, paid for, and emptied our buckets into brown plastic grocery bags, each weighing five pounds. Not bad. Just like old times. Walking to the car, my girlfriend looked at me and smiled, holding her wobbly bag of berries like you’d hold an overweight lap dog. I hefted my own bag. It felt like I was holding the minutes we’d just spent together. Soon to be enjoyed a second time at breakfast tomorrow.