Local Hero Profile: Blue Heaven Berry Farm
By Jenny Miller Sechler
Published in the CISA July 2014 ENewsletter
A visitor to Blue Heaven berry farm in Middlefield can easily imagine the many reasons farmers Joe and Donna Pease decided to build their home on this piece of land. Sitting on the crest of a hilly country road, the farm is surrounded by verdant forests, and a small frog pond graces a corner of the property where the raspberries grow. A closer observer may notice Arthur Pease Road on a map of Middlefield, and the presence of both the road and Joe and Donna is no coincidence. “Yes, we’re related,” explains Joe. “The Peases have been in this part of Massachusetts for over 100 years.” But there’s a more practical reason that Joe and Donna bought the property shortly after their marriage in 1992. “His father wanted the land for more blueberry bushes!” jokes Donna. Since the 1960s, Joe’s father, Maurice “Mo” Pease, was a man on a mission to grow berries, and Joe followed the charge, buying the property across from the original Blue Heaven farm and continuing to nurture Blue Heaven’s flourishing berry business with the same values his father instilled in him: providing an excellent variety of quality fruit for a great price. No wonder generations of families have chosen to spend a relaxing afternoon in the summer on the Pease’s beautiful farm.
While Mo Pease didn’t buy the property in Middlefield until the early 60s, according to Joe, his dedication to berries started long before that. “He worked at Blueberry Joe’s in Blandford when he was a kid,” explains Joe. Those summers picking berries must have made an impression on young Mo, and although he eventually went into teaching, he retired from the profession when he and his wife Nancy started their own berry farm. “He cleared some land and planted some trees,” says Joe. “Some of the original stock came from Blueberry Joe’s.” Like any farm family, the Peases had to surmount many challenges through those early years, including a number of years when Nancy’ health was compromised, making it difficult for her to contribute to farm work as much as she would like. Still, Blue Heaven’s business prospered.
Joe eventually went to college for accounting and worked a variety of jobs, but his return to the farm seemed inevitable. His and Donna’s purchase of the land across from the original farm expanded the farm to 10 acres, on which he and Donna grow such a wide variety of blueberries that it’s hard for Joe to remember them all. Joe is particularly proud of how big some of his berries are, as big as half dollars, and in the sweetness of his fruit, as well as the longevity of his bushes, some of which have been on the property since Mo brought them from Blueberry Joe’s in the early 60s. He and Donna also take pride in their competitive pricing and excellent customer service. “I like working with the public. I really do,” says Donna, who is in charge of the pick-your own business. “People are awesome.” While Blue Heaven’s business is about 2/3 commercial, their pick-your-own bushes have been enjoyed by the same families for 30 to 40 years. “Little kids that were here years ago are now in their twenties and coming back with their kids,” says Joe. “It’s very relaxing,” Donna adds. “They can bring a picnic lunch.”
Of course being on the farm isn’t always relaxing behind the scenes. Challenges, according to Joe, include time, bugs, and weed control, “and more weed control, and more weed control!” Invasive species have been a particular problem on the farm. An invasive vine that showed up on the farm about 3 years ago “can blanket a blueberry tree in a week,” according to Donna. As a former accountant, Joe is incredibly specific about bug populations on the farm. Taking out his calculator, Joe quickly determines just how many bugs share the farm with him and Donna by mid-way through the summer. “Two bugs can have up to 300 larvae. There are up to 10 life cycles in the season. That means 760,000,000,000 bugs after 5 life cycles if half the bugs are female.” In 2012, Joe and Donna lost at least 5 tons of fruit to an invasive Asian insect species called the spotted wing drosophila. Bears are also an occasional pest. While last year was pretty much bear free, a family of four were frequent visitors to the farm a couple of years ago. “We told them they could have the bottom rows,” says Donna. “We left the berries on the bushes for them.” While Donna enjoys working with the public through their pick-your-own business, Joe seems to thrive on all of these challenges. “I enjoy the challenge of trying to get a good product,” he says, while describing what he likes best about his work at Blue Heaven. “And riding on the tractor!”
Joe’s parents passed away within months of each other in 2011 and what once began a labor of love for berries has become a labor of love for Mo and Nancy, as Joe and Donna continue nurturing the berry bushes Mo planted years ago. “We want to just keep carrying on the farm,” Joe says simply. “We’ve got enough to do.” But as the two dream about the farm’s future, they grow more creative. “I’d like to increase the pick-your-own business,” Donna muses. “Even have an ice cream stand. Maybe sell hamburgers and hotdogs.” Joe chuckles as he joins his wife’s excitement for the future, suggesting the perfect name for their future establishment: “Mo’s Bar and Grill.” While customers may have to wait a few years to enjoy the Pease’s burgers, dogs, and ice cream, they don’t have to wait to enjoy sweet fruit picked from the same trees Mo planted all those years ago.
For more information on the farm’s location and hours, visit their page on CISA’s online guide.