Local Hero Profile: West Granville Blueberries
By Abby Getman, Program Assistant
Published in CISA’s July 2014 Enewsletter
For anyone who has had the delight of a blueberry pancake at Maple Corner Farm, you may already know about the treasure of West Granville Blueberries. Owned by Leon and Joyce Ripley of Maple Corner Farm, West Granville Blueberries is a side business and labor of love in the hills of West Granville. In addition to haying hundreds of acres of fields, which double as pastoral cross country skiing trails during the winter months, the Ripleys tend to a three acre berry patch that draws folks from all around the region.
Leon has been involved with the blueberry patch on North Lane since it was first planted. Originally, the business was started by Leon’s uncle, John Sena. As Leon tells it, Sena moved to the Granville area in 1959, having decided the dairy business was not for him, and “he wanted to get a good crop going.” Granville had been the capital of wild blueberries back in the early 1900s, with close to one thousand acres of low bush berries, so John and nine-year-old Leon set to work planting between 100-200 plants that first year. More plants followed, expanding the production to 600 bushes. They selected high bush berry varieties for their size, flavor and ease of picking.
Sena and Leon’s other uncle, Steve Ripley, managed the three acres of blueberries for the following three decades. In the ‘90s, Leon, his wife Joyce, and his mother Helen became more involved in the business, and they decided to open a pick-your-own stand in the early 2000s. Helen oversaw the marketing and the management of the berry fields, and she staffed the stand from mid-July to early August for nearly five years, passing out blueberry sauce samples and recipes for baked blueberry delights. When speaking about his mother, Leon reminisces, “She loved the people who came and they loved her.” In December of 2005, she passed away at the age of 92. “People missed her greatly. We had the news posted at the pick-your-own stand,” says Leon, so that regulars learned of her passing during berry season, and lapsed pickers still inquire after her. Joyce Ripley has now taken over her mother-in-law’s post, tending to the picking, marketing and management of the blueberries.
Located in the foothills of the Berkshires, West Granville’s fruits ripen later than their Valley neighbors, but unfortunately, the distance does not protect them from the insect pressures that have spread in the Valley. West Granville Blueberries has struggled with Spotted-Wing Drosophila, an insect that targets soft fruits, since it arrived in Massachusetts in 2012 and devastated fruit crops. “We lost thousands of dollars of blueberries that year,” Leon recalled, resulting in a complete loss of that year’s crop, but the Ripleys are resourceful farmers and now know what they’re up against. “The berries are looking good,” Leon reported, “We should be open (for pick-your-own) around July 15th, we’ll have plenty of berries then.” Their early berries can be found on Tuesdays at the Farmers’ Market at Forest Park in Springfield.
If you’re looking for a great drive or bike ride into a well-hidden nook of Western Massachusetts, you should make a pilgrimage to pick your own berries at West Granville. If you make it to the farm, Joyce will likely be there to greet you. If she’s busy, she’ll leave a coffee can out at the booth. West Granville Blueberries transports you back to a much simpler time, and with little development in the area, the neighboring roads are filled with rocky pastures and well-tended orchards. West Granville Blueberries upholds a long tradition in Granville, and with the right soils and right climate, it is a treasure to be experienced. Large, juicy, high bush blueberries await, and they’ll have their annual Blueberry Tasting the first Saturday in August, where you can taste different blueberry varieties, as well as baked delights from Ripley family recipes.