The City Magazine Since 1975

Singin' the Blues

Singin' the Blues
June 2012
Blue Pearl Farms delivers a music-playing, berry-picking party on June 24

The consequences of an early spring brought hard work but a delicious payoff for McClellanville’s Blue Pearl Farms, an organic blueberry-patch-cum-music-venue tucked just west of town in the sleepy community up Highway 17. Owners Robert Sollott and Cheri Ward found themselves with extra duties throughout March and April, pruning the thorny weeds intertwined amidst their head-high blueberry bushes. “I’m sure it would be easier to spray herbicide, but we pull by hand,” says Ward proudly. On the third Sunday of each month, Blue Pearl explodes with life as a lineup of regional bands take the stage for free Lowcountry Blueberry Jams that draw crowds from all along the coast. And to celebrate their first full year in business—plus the opening of the orchard—Ward and Sollott have expanded that endeavor into a Blueberry Festival on June 24, with proceeds benefitting Coastal Conservation League and The Nature Conservancy's efforts to protect the habitat of red cockaded woodpeckers (there are six nests within a half mile of the farm). Sunday is packed with acoustic picking by a dozen rootsy acts, including the Upstate’s Bare Knuckle Champions and locals Gaslight Street and Sarah Cole and The Hawkes. You can also catch the “World Finals” of the Blueberry Toss, a monthly tradition involving projectile fruit caught in the mouth (the record is 42 feet, six inches!). For a successful toss, density factors more heavily than size, explains Ward, and by June, the fruits will be in their prime. “We grow heritage varieties created for taste, not shelf life, and we don’t pick them until they’re at the peak of ripeness,” she says. The rows of bushes will be open for harvesting at the fest, and an array of cooking demos and tastings will be offered, along with freshly grilled specialties featuring local produce and seafood (Ward and Sollott lead double lives as crabbers). Ward hopes that the farm serves both as an educational resource about the importance of growing local and organic (she’s quick to show off her beehives, emphasizing the role of pollinators in farming) and simply as a source of good food. There’s also the community aspect, in full force at the festival, with local artisans and vendors, presentations by the U.S. Forest Service and Coastal Conservation League about the Lowcountry environment, games for children, and more. “It’s a nice atmosphere out here, conducive to friendliness,” says Ward. “We see a lot of smiles.”