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With Pandemic Restrictions Lifted, More People Returning To U-Pick Farms

Blueberries
Officials say, anecdotally, that they’re seeing an increase in people visiting U-pick farms and other agritourism sites since stay-at-home orders were lifted. At a local blueberry farm in Chesterfield, customers have been clearing fields since Monday. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Since opening at 8 a.m. Thursday, farm manager David Goode has been ringing up a steady line of customers at Swift Creek Berry Farm in Mosely.  

Monday was the first time he was able to welcome people back to blueberry picking since the pandemic began. He says despite a couple of cold weather days ruining some bushes, they’ve got a good crop this year.  

“We got picked out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we moved over [to this section] for today and Friday,” he says.

David Goode
Swift Creek Berry Farm manager David Goode rings up a customer. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Since pandemic restrictions were lifted, many people are returning to doing things they missed out on last summer, like blueberry picking. 

Kelly Butrico brought her two young children, Mae and Thomas, to Swift Creek Berry Farm in Mosely to get the key ingredient for blueberry cobbler. 

But mom isn’t sure they’ve picked enough just yet. 

When asked how many blueberries they have in their buckets, Mae cuts Thomas off, saying she has “billions,” which brings a quizzical response from her mom: really, billions?

Thomas offers a smaller estimate: “I’ve got seven.”

Goode said customers have already cleared an entire field of blueberry bushes since opening Monday--the same field that usually stays open until August. Luckily the farm, which has over 12 acres of blueberries, has another location up the road that also houses their greenhouse and pumpkin patch. 

The lifting of pandemic restrictions may account for some of the increase in customers, but Goode says it wasn’t the pandemic that stopped people from picking last year.

“Last year, we had two nights of 26-degrees and we had green berries--a bumper crop. And with those two nights, they froze and fell off and so we had no fruit at all. So, if we were going to lose a crop completely, that would have been the perfect year to do so,” he says.

His farm, which has been selling blueberries for 35 years, was able to stay open because of their greenhouse and pumpkin patch operations. 

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2017 was the last time a study of Agribusiness was published. (Graphic courtesy of Virginia Tourism)

According to a 2017 agritourism economic study, there are almost 200 U-pick farms like Swift Creek in the commonwealth. Overall, there are roughly 1400 agritourism operations in the state. 

According to the Virginia Agribusiness Council, it’s an industry that brings in over $2 billion per year to the state.

 While numbers aren’t in yet, the Virginia Agribusiness Council says they are seeing a definite increase in the number of people visiting agritourism sites in 2021.