Growing Blueberries with Spiritual Respect for the Land

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By Rachel Bosworth

Gautama Buddha believed that everyone is capable of cultivating a sense of enlightenment, as he also believed in the importance of tending to the land. “Bhavana,” which is Sanskrit for “fertile land,” is where one of the North Fork’s newer niche farms got its name. Tucked away down Horton’s Lane in Southold is the small and sweet blueberry farm called Bhavana Berries. Through stewardship of the land, the behind-the-scenes farmers cultivate more than just a specialty crop.

“There is a philosophical theory on the farm,” says Andru Moshe, a former California produce buyer who handles the sales and marketing for the farm in addition to farming herself. “Farming relies on fertile soil. Buddha believed everyone was capable of cultivation.”

Bhavana Berries is the result of a group of 50-plus year olds who traded in their day jobs in technology, finance, retail and more to invest in organic farming. Among these farmers is Paul Lawless and Mickey Harley, who is a certified yoga instructor and brings these practices into daily life on the farm with a yoga barn on premises. “It’s part of our health plan for our employees, and we all take advantage of it,” shares Moshe. “It’s physically and mentally good for you, and a great way to decompress for the day or even start the day.”

Blueberries are an indigenous plant to Long Island and thrive in the area’s soil and climate. By using sustainable practices, Bhavana Berries aims to keep beneficial insects thriving by mimicking nature and maintaining an ecological balance. “There’s also an economic aspect,” says Moshe. “The demand is so much greater than the supply. We have a really deep desire to do farming where we can root in the local community.”

For organic farmers, the idea of local, fresh produce is quite simple and something Moshe says can be inadvertently taken for granted. Farmers care for their land, plant and harvest their crop, and through retail — whether at farm stands or grocery stores — supply the public with a product they may not necessarily know the story of its origin.

“People are used to shopping in a store with no idea how something grows or where it came from,” says Moshe. Bhavana Berries, she says, aims to bridge the gap by promoting sustainable farming practices and educating the public through their farm.

With more than 30 acres and 45,000+ blueberry plants, the farm says the u-pick aspect is at the core of their philosophy. “It builds the connection for people to know exactly where their food is coming from,” Moshe says. “It’s fun; we love talking to people about food and have an opportunity to do that in the field. If people want to learn, we’re willing to teach them.” The farmers feel that with children especially, there is an opportunity to teach them about farming at a young age. “We want to connect children with what’s going on at the farm,” Moshe continues. “It often translates into healthy choices they make when they grow up.”

Bhavana Berries grows six different varietals of blueberries; duke, sweetheart, draper, bonus, liberty, and aurora, ranging from sprite and sweet to the perfect baking additions for sauces, sweets, and toppings. A new u-pick offering this year is specialty melons like the San Juan and Snow Leopard. Moshe says customers can learn to choose melons later in stores by first picking melons themselves on a farm. The farm also offers heirloom tomatoes, specialty yellow, red, and gold peppers, and multi-colored squash for u-pick.

Paul Lawless and Mickey Harley working the fields at Havana Berries in Southold. Courtesy photo

As for trends in the farming industry, Moshe is thrilled to see more farms going into business, rather than closing, and that there are quite a few young farmers taking up the trade. She says it’s a reversal that’s been happening in agriculture, and is excited by this new trend especially in the East End community.

“We’re old ‘new’ farmers,” Moshe laughs of the team at Bhavana Berries. “It can be romanticized, but it’s very hard work. It’s a rural lifestyle and you’re connected with the land, but it can be a challenge.”

Situated on a migratory path, birds pose a threat to the blueberries as it’s a delicious food source for those that fly overhead. Netting 30-plus acres is currently an unrealistic option, so the farm combats this the natural way by having a falconer come out to fly his bird and scare others away. On-going regulatory changes in farming and the town can also pose a challenge for farms not located on a main road. “As growers and farmers, we have to get involved with local government,” explains Moshe. “How do we help shape local regulations that still uphold what the town wants? How does it support us and other farmers? It’s a big issue for farmers on the East End without signage for people traveling on a main road.”

Despite the challenges, there’s much for Bhavana Berries to look forward to as they prepare to open for the season at the end of June, beginning of July. If all goes well with the plants the farm has this year, they should produce about 250,000 pounds of blueberries. Though distribution to local restaurants is limited, there is one newcomer Moshe is eager to work with; Frank DeCarlo of Barba Bianca, which is opening this summer in Greenport. “We’re excited to work with him this year,” she says. “We like how he built his menu around what’s coming out of the East End. He’s very committed to that.”

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