Valley Bounty: The Benson Place

Published July 6, 2024 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Blueberry Fields Forever

Family farm in Heath cultivates connection to a special summer crop

By Jacob Nelson

“This is a farm, but it feels like a wild place,” says Meredith Wecker about The Benson Place. “That’s why I fell in love with it.”

The Benson Place is a diversified farm that Wecker runs with her husband, Andrew Kurowski, and is best known for their fifty acres of certified organic low-bush blueberries. Also called wild blueberries – which refers to the plant variety, not necessarily whether the berries were farmed or foraged – these dark blue gems of summer are almost ripe on their hilltop in Heath, just waiting to be picked.

Low-bush blueberries pack a lot of flavor for their small size (their photo)

Fifty acres produces a lot of berries. Enough to keep many local families in good supply throughout the year.

“I’d say 70% of our sales are people buying in bulk,” says Wecker. “We sell fresh berries in 10- or 20-pound boxes to store or make jam. You can pre-order these for pick-up at sites around the Valley. Another 20% of our crop goes to pick-your-own, and the rest is frozen and sold in local stores like Atlas Farm Store in Deerfield and Green Fields Market in Greenfield.”

Their land on Burnt Hill has a long history as a commercial blueberry farm dating to the 1950s, with some evidence suggesting the hilltop barren has been managed to encourage berry growth for generations beforehand.  After working for the previous farm owners, Dave Gott & Ted Watt, Wecker and Kurowski took over the business in 2012 and began adding their own spin.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a farm with many things going on that all fit together,” Wecker explains. Part of wanting to diversify and connect different pieces of the farm comes from her study of permaculture, which she calls “a huge motivational force. It’s inspired how I want to live on the planet, and how I farm as well.”

Now, in addition to blueberries, they’re also growing some vegetables and have planted new groves of chestnuts and elderberries to eventually sell. Dairy goats also joined the farm a few years back.

Yearly controlled burns on a third of their acreage encourage The Benson Place’s blueberries to set lots of fruit (their photo)

Tying it all together, they recently started raising pastured meat chickens, which are fed organic grain and goats’ milk whey while foraging freely in the chestnut and elderberry orchard.  This year they’re raising two batches of chickens ready for pick up in July and October. Pre-ordering information is available at

A permaculture approach also influences how The Benson Place manages their blueberries.  Unlike their other crops, these were not planted by people, they were found already growing there. The farmers’ job is to help these native berries thrive and outcompete other plants.

The first task each year to care for the blueberries is a controlled burn of about a third of their bushes.  Burning is the best way they’ve found to prune bushes back to the ground, which encourages vigorous growth and fruiting over the next few years.

After burning, blueberry bushes grow right back. Unfortunately, so do weeds. To manage the farm organically without pesticides, keeping them in check requires countless hours of hand-weeding. Luckily, the goal is not to eradicate everything that’s not a blueberry.

“We’ve learned that we farm within a larger ecosystem, and every plant has its purpose,” says Wecker. “For example, leaving some trees and woody species encourages more fungi to thrive in the soil, and that helps deter grass, which is a harder weed to manage.”

At The Benson Place, pick-your-own customers and farm crew pickers use the same equipment – blueberry rakes and wooden berry boxes and garden carts (their photo)

Come harvest time, picking low-bush blueberries looks completely different compared to their high-bush counterparts. For efficiency, most farms wait until an entire patch is ripe and pick everything at once using a special blueberry rake, which looks like a metal dustpan or scoop with high sides and long tines extending outwards. The picker slides the tines under the bush’s top branches and pulls up to dislodge berries, which are collected at the back of the scoop. After picking, sorting machines help pickers separate sticks, leaves and unripe berries until only the best remain.

Pick-your-own customers at The Benson Place get to experience this whole process, which is a rare opportunity in this part of New England. All equipment is provided, and the experience usually takes about two hours, depending on the number of helping hands and size of the harvest.

The season for low-bush blueberries is short, running from mid-July through the beginning of August. To keep things orderly, The Benson Place lets customers sign up to reserve pick-your-own slots ahead of time on some days. On other days it’s first come, first served with new groups setting out as soon as rakes and sorting machines become available. In case of a short wait, they encourage picnicking, enjoying the view and wandering their public hiking trails.

(The Benson Place photo)

For those who would rather skip picking and go right to eating, baking, or freezing, The Benson Place is also accepting pre-orders for bulk blueberries from this year’s crop on their website. Customers can also buy their wild blueberry syrup, which goes well with anything you’d use maple syrup for.

While small, low-bush blueberries are packed with punchy, concentrated flavor. Delicious on their own, they’re also great additions to both sweet and savory dishes.

“They make a great pie or cobbler, which is pretty obvious,” Wecker says. “They also pair really well with herbs like rosemary, thyme, and lavender. I’ve seen lavender in blueberry pie, or blueberry coffee cakes with rosemary and thyme. Blueberry chutneys are great too.”

Last year, there were hardly any blueberries. A late May frost decimated the crop as it was flowering. It could have brought the business to ruin, but it didn’t. Thanks to hard work and generous customers who contributed to their GoFundMe, the farm persisted. Now, this year’s crop looks better than ever.

Many customers say The Benson Place’s magic comes from the farm’s integration with a landscape that remains wild; where visitors step into a world in which humans are clearly one part of the whole. Hawks soar above views of Mount Greylock, pollinators buzz between wildflowers, and people enjoy one of the sweetest gifts that piece of land has grown for centuries. It’s an experience not to be missed.

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). See where you can find local berries or pick-your-own farms near you at