Blueberries and golf balls abound at Balch’s

Spiraling prices have folks thinking of staying close to home this summer.

There’s a destination nearby, where you can soak in nature’s peaceful beauty — mountains, lake, rolling pastures — and pick blueberries. While you’re there, look for a bald eagle or hawk. And you’re certain to see golf balls.

Bob Balch and his wife Joyce — a former registered nurse at Brookwood — own a piece of Alabama heaven at Balch’s Blueberry U–Pick Farm on Highway 43 in Sterrett.

“I’m a good golfer,” Balch said. “And practice hitting balls across the pasture. My cows keep the grass clipped short.”

An engineer with a master’s in structural dynamics from UAB, he’s been a volunteer at several Regions Charity Golf Classics. More than 20 years ago, the Balch’s researched blueberry farming, bought this 1800’s farm, restored it with a lake for irrigation, opened pasturelands, installed electric fencing and planted 1,500 blueberry plants of several varieties. They ripen mid June to early August.

“People discovered health benefits of blueberries and come from far away,” he said.

Blueberries are high in antioxidants and help keep vision sharp. Many diabetics have found blueberries well–tolerated and healthful.

The Balch’s stay inspired by droves of happy people carrying away buckets of blueberries. Their fields between rows are sod with centipede grass and mowed clean. Bushes are high and loaded chockablock full.

There’s a trick to fast picking. Drape a belt or rope around the neck, from which to swing a bucket handle, leaving hands free to pick. Then cup both hands, using fingers to nudge ripe berries from the vine.

The Balch’s and I picked less than an hour, and had nearly three gallons. We did more talking than picking, and with nothing but nature’s sounds as a backdrop, touched on everything from politics to religion.

With today’s skyrocketing prices, and produce shipped from third world countries, there’s savings and safety in eating homegrown food. At Balch’s the sunshine and fresh air are free. In one fun morning a family can pick enough berries to freeze and last a year.

Balch’s Blueberry U–Pick, at 361 Lakeview Drive in Sterrett, opens from 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Wednesday–Saturday. Cost: $8 per gallon. For more information, call 672-2526.