For 35 years, Tynes Stringfellow ran a successful landscaping company, and he was ready to retire. Four years ago, he and his wife, Sally, boarded a sailboat and headed for the Caribbean, planning to live the rest of their lives on the water. “Next thing you know, here came Hattie Jane, ” Tynes says. “You never really know what love is before you have a child.” (The couple now understands this doubly, as their second daughter, Billie, was born last spring.)
The Stringfellows decided to return to Baldwin County three years ago to raise Hattie Jane, and Tynes knew he had to start working again. “I wanted to have a family-run business, ” he says. “And I was trying to find a use for this land (80 acres next to Weeks Bay in Fairhope) that would respect the estuary. I cringed at the thought of it becoming a subdivision or something.”
After tossing several ideas around, Tynes settled on blueberries, and in 2011, he planted his first 1, 400 bushes. “One morning, I was planning to go into the catfish business, and by that night, I was going into the blueberry business. It took me by surprise, and it’s been quite an adventure.”
Once Tynes made up his mind about what to grow on his land, he took it a step further — he and farm manager Kirk Hanberg decided to grow certified organic, highly nutritional blueberries and invite people to the farm to pick their own. They named the farm Weeks Bay Plantation and called the blueberry business LA Berry Farms.
“We didn’t want to grow anything that required us to handle chemicals all the time, ” Tynes says. “Everything we put on these for nutrition is an organically sourced food-grade product you could actually eat right out of the bag. It’s the way they used to grow food a long time ago.”
Because of the high-quality organic soil additives used at Weeks Bay Plantation, the berries are packed with nutrients. To measure the fruit’s nutrition, blueberry growers use the BRIX scale, which measures the percentage of solids — sucrose,
fructose, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins and hormones — in the fruit. Generally, the higher the BRIX level, the better the fruit. The average level for major blueberry growers is 11.3. LA Berry Farms boasts a BRIX level of 15.
“The nutritional value of our berries is really what sets us apart, ” Hanberg says. “Just because you’re organic doesn’t necessarily mean you have the optimum amount of nutrition in that fruit or vegetable. Organic is a great way to grow, but you can still have nutrient deficiencies.”
Raising 15 varieties of blueberries organically, as well as ensuring such a high nutrient content, is challenging work. “It takes more time, energy and creativity to kill an ant or a weed, but the taste of these berries and knowing you can eat them right off the bush makes it all worth it, ” Tynes says.
Beyond the Bushes
At Weeks Bay Plantation, the pastoral beauty of the land and the array of outdoor activities are just as sweet as the fruit. In addition to the 16, 525 blueberry bushes on the farm now, there is a slender lake stocked with bass and tilapia, an archery course, a cabin, long-limbed oak trees, a pick-your-own vegetable garden, open fields perfect for picnicking, an amphitheater for concerts and a 1-mile exercise trail.
Tynes sees Weeks Bay Plantation as a destination for weddings, parties, farm-to-table dinners, field trips, outdoor adventures, concerts and overnight stays. “Last year, we probably had around 1, 000 visitors, and this year, we’re hoping for 3, 000 or 4, 000, ” Tynes says. “I really just wanted a family-oriented atmosphere with lots of smiles. My daughters have inspired me.”
Beginners' Tips for Picking
- Choose berries that are round, blue and have unbroken skin. Big berries equal big sweetness. Avoid white, small or hard berries.
- If the berry does not come off with a light pull, it’s not ripe yet. Blueberries do not ripen after they are picked.
- Closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothing and sunscreen are highly recommended.
- Do not leave berries in the car.
- Chill berries within one hour of picking them.
- Wash berries just before eating.
- To freeze, place unwashed berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet, freeze and then place in Ziploc bags and store in the freezer.
Planning Your Visit
Berry Season April 15 – July 15
Cost per pound Pick-your-own: $5;
Payment Cash, check or credit/debit card
Pets Not allowed because of USDA standards
Weeks Bay Plantation • 12562 Mary Ann Beach Road, Fairhope. 421-2073.
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups white sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 4 mini-loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar. Fold in the shredded zucchini.
3. Beat in flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
4. Gently fold in the blueberries.
5. Transfer batter to prepared miniature loaf pans.
6. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Makes 4 miniature loaves.
Sally’s Blueberry Muffins
Sally, who is a trained chef, formerly worked at Jesse’s Restaurant in Magnolia Springs. She loves making these muffins with daughters Hattie Jane
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 – 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, diced
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin pan cups, or line the pan with paper liners.
2. Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.
3. Place blueberries in a small bowl. Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour over top. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, and stir in vanilla and lemon zest.
5. Fold in dry ingredients alternately with milk. Gently fold in blueberries.
6. Spoon batter into prepared cups.
7. To make a coarse crumb crust: In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons flour, 5 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a fork. Sprinkle over batter in muffin cups.
8. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack. Makes 1 dozen.
3 cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, mix blueberries, 3 tablespoons sugar and orange juice. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
5. Beat in egg and vanilla extract.
6. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are combined.
7. Drop batter by rounded tablespoons over blueberry mixture. Try to cover as much of filling as possible.
8. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling.
text and photos by Jillian Clair