Growing a Better Berry

La Finca Berries transition to Certified Organic

When Pete and Wanda Palumbo of La Finca Berries brought their first blueberry harvest to market in 2019, Pete recalls a customer remarking, “I have never had a blueberry that good in my life”. They knew they were on to something. Their mission to grow sweet, ripe, and firm berries was being realized.

Pete and Wanda first thought about growing blueberries more than 5 years ago when they saw their neighbors transform an open grass field into a vineyard and wondered about possibilities for their own land. When they tested the soil, they discovered its low pH was perfect for acid-loving blueberries.

In 2016, they got to work clearing 2 acres. The next year, they planted more than 1400 blueberry bushes to start La Finca Berries of Auburn, KY. From the beginning they knew they wanted to certify their organic blueberries to build the health of the soil. Organic farmers spend their effort on the front end, building up the soil to create healthier plants, rather than later purchasing and applying inputs to increase production.

To become a certified organic farm, Pete got in touch with the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) transition trainer program and started working with Tony Silvernail. Tony assisted the Palumbos in navigating the organic regulations and understanding what they should focus on when submitting the farm's Organic System Plan that’s required by the organic certifying agency, Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

As they transitioned to organic, they had to come up with a plan for weed control. They knew traditional herbicides were not allowed in a certified organic system. Instead, Pete and Wanda laid down a thick landscape fabric, planted each bush into it and mulched around the plant to suppress weeds.

The Palumbos also needed to find fertilizers that were OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed and approved for organic production to apply to their plants. Pete learned that a combination of blood meal, bone meal, and fish fertilizer worked best to supply plants with enough nitrogen, phosphorus, and micronutrients without the need for chemical fertilizer.

When the first crop of organic blueberries came in last year they were busy harvesting and cooling them as quickly as possible. Picking the berries at peak ripeness and cooling them down is key to maintain sweet, ripe berries. Another key to great flavor: the berries must be absolutely ripe. Unlike other fruits, blueberries will not ripen after harvesting.

Pete and Wanda will stay busy through July harvesting berries and distributing to local produce stores like Country Breeze Market in Auburn. They believe local and organic are more than just a concept, but a quality experience you can taste in each berry.

Learn more about La Finca Berries on their OAK Find-A-Farm directory profile.

--Katie Harvey, OAK Staff

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