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Berry pickin time
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The local community knows exactly where to go each berry season for their supply of delicious fresh-picked blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. The Alcovy Berry Farm, located off Lackey Road, offers opportunities for customers to peruse through the farm to pick their own berries at prices much lower to those offered at regular supermarkets.

Alcovy Berry, owned by the Worley family, planted their first bushes in 2003 on a single acre of land. The berry farm has since grown to three acres, offering a variety of different berry types like Thornless Triple Crown, Arapaho, Navajo and Kiowa.

The Worleys decided to try their hand at growing berries after finding out the challenges it posed. According to Jim Worley Sr., they were told that Georgia’s climate was not suitable for growing blackberries and raspberries; blueberries are common throughout the state.

"The blueberries problem is the frost — the cold weather affects them tremendously," explained Worley Sr. "Last year we had one hour of cold weather where it was in the 20s and it literally froze the berries, so they’re over with. Just one hour of freezing and it’s through. But you need to have some cold hours for your plants — that’s for any kind of fruit. Nothing much seems to affect raspberries."

In addition to climate issues, raspberry bushes tend to be thick and scattered with thorns, making it tough to harvest. Mature plants have to be rotated every year to prevent disease from setting in and spreading. The trouble and headache that goes into cultivating berries keeps many away from doing so, therefore making the farm’s berries something of a novelty, Worley said.

Despite the difficulty the farm faced, each season found them running out of berries faster than they can harvest.

"We had no idea the raspberries were going to be such a hit. We didn’t realize they were as popular as they are," said Martha Worley, Worley Sr.’s daughter-in-law. "There’s a constant demand for them (blackberries and raspberries), especially people from the north. They were raised around them and have gotten used to them, so when they come to the south, they see that they are not raised here. Blueberries are different, but you won’t find raspberries and blackberries around here much."

The farm is pesticide-free, though a small amount of fungicide is used during off-season; commercial fertilizer and a drip system supplied by well water are used to feed the plants.

Worley Sr. explains that they will need to modify the drip system to produce more water for the plants during the dry times of the season.

The farm is mainly designed as a U-Pick operation. The bushes are lined in rows, with enough space between the rows to allow customers to stroll through and take their picks.

"We started U-Pick three years ago and it’s been working out really well," said Worley Sr. "The amount of berries produced has increased, so you need more U-Pick customers to allow the opportunity to use less labor and expense. That’s what we’re shooting for, to let the folks come out and pick what they want."

The farm also grows a small selection of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and squash. A selection of jams, jellies and syrups are sold throughout the year, made from leftover berries from the off season. Excess berries, however, are hard to come by. Because berries are highly perishable, the farm must move their product to some of their local outlets like Green Livin’ Farms.

"Last year, we would pick up to 70 gallons of berries a day," Martha said. "If they don’t move them within the day, they need to either go into the freezer or something needs to be done with them. They don’t hold. Blueberries may stand for an extra day or two, but blackberries and raspberries are the same story. We lost some this year because we couldn’t pick them fast enough."

The season is over for this year, but blueberries are still on hand, so customers can call for availability. Hours are flexible for people to come by to pick their own or buy picked berries.

Customers travel from areas like Conyers and Metro Atlanta to visit the farm when in season. Locals who have known the farm for years contact the farm as early as March to find out about the status of their crops.

"We work from sun up to sun down," Martha said. "But it would be better for customers to call ahead before coming out. We don’t like people to be disappointed when they come out here and can’t get what they want. People get very upset when they’re gone. We try to put it out there for people, but it never fails, we always run out. When they first come in and are first available, that’s probably the hardest time we have to move them. People think they have time but they’re gone really quickly."

For more information, call Jim and Martha Worley at (770) 385-7383.