Leading The Way to Organic Farming

Dick Byne has been growing organic blueberries long before organic was trendy. In fact, when he first started his organic blueberry farm in the late 70s, he sold his crop in the conventional market because there simply was no market for organic berries at that time. Byne was so far ahead of the curve that his is the oldest organic blueberry farm in the State and one of the oldest in the country, leading the way in an industry that is only just now catching on here in the South.

Byne laments that there is still not much local demand for his organic product, but he does now have a market for it. His biggest buyer of fresh blueberries, Whole Foods, has enabled him to leave the conventional market and sell his produce at the higher price the more discerning market can bring.

Several things become clear when spending some time with Byne on his farm. He really loves blueberries. He takes a great deal of pride in the Byne family name and all that entails. He has a genuine respect and appreciation for the people who work for him. And he feels a sense of responsibility to use his resources to their full potential.

Agriculture is in Byne’s DNA. His father was a cotton farmer who also sold dairy equipment and got into the dairy business himself. Rooted in farming from his earliest years, Byne always knew that some form of agriculture was in his future. He just wasn’t sure exactly what it would be.

To that end, Byne attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Byne recalls the moment he decided to focus on choosing organic methods that would build the soil rather than simply relying on chemical additives.

“If you start paying attention in class, you can learn something,” Byne said. And he did pay attention. Despite the professors hippie appearance that was a clear indication to the younger Byne that he lacked actual farm experience.

“He comes walking into the class and he’s got long hair, glasses – this is 1976 – no baseball cap or farming tan from here down (indicating the forearm). And I punched the guy next to me and said, ‘this guy isn’t going to know anything about farming.’ But he knew theory… and that’s what you go to college for is to learn theory,” Byne recollected.

“The teacher said if you can raise the organic matter, you will need less water and you can hold on to the nutrients – and that just made sense to me. From that point on, that’s what I wanted to do was to raise the organic matter (in the soil).”

Having decided to use natural methods of farming instead of relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the next step was deciding which type of crop to grow. Not interested in growing commodity crops or planting trees, Byne settled on blueberries, sensing a coming change in America’s diet toward more fruits and vegetables.

“I was the first commercial blueberry farm in the CSRA,” Byne said. “Nobody had a blueberry operation back then. If you follow the crowd, you’re just going to follow the crowd the rest of your life and I wanted to do something different.”

And Byne is still doing things differently.

One major point of pride for Byne on his farm is something most people would probably just consider an eyesore – a heaping pile of decaying trees, shrubs, limbs and clippings. The mountain of debris was once a financial burden for the City of Waynesboro, costing thousands to take to the dump where it would serve no purpose beyond further adding to the waste, just more tonnage to be buried in the earth.

But Byne saw the value in all that organic matter, and saw the savings for the City he served as Councilman. At his suggestion, the City of Waynesboro began delivering their tree trimmings and lawn debri, previously slated to go to the landfill, to Byne’s farm. There it is piled like a monument to the circle of life. It’s a place where the dead vegetation is given a chance at renewal: the opportunity to return to the earth, not as waste, but as organic matter rich in nutrients that will feed the plants and build the soil.

It all goes back to that college professor and the seed he planted in Byne’s ear about the soil’s need to be replenished. Byne has seen his own soil improved over the years he has worked the land, increasing from a half a percentage point of organic matter when he started to 5.6 percent today.

“This still blows my mind,” Byne stated emphatically. “When you say you’ve got 1% organic matter, what I’m telling you is that I’ve got 20 thousand pounds per acre. That just blows my mind… so that gives you an idea what it takes to get to 5.6 (percent).”

“When you go to Kentucky and they’ve got black dirt – that’s 30 percent. So, you’re talking about 600 thousand pounds per acre of organic matter, so we’ve got a long way to go. I’d love to have 30 percent organic matter here and that dirt over there (gesturing to the mound of compost) will do that, because that’s nothing but 100% organic matter.”

“We’ve got to be better,” he continued “… why are we throwing grass, limbs and leaves away when that’s basically free fertilizer? It’s just a matter of time. You will take it to a designated area and it will be nothing but a mulch pile. We’ll sell that as a municipality and make money from it.”

The compost being generated on his land from the City’s debris has tested very high in phosphorus and potassium with a low but visible showing of the minor elements with a very low PH. At the moment, the compost is being given away, but once a market is developed for it, it can become a revenue source for the City.

Not only does Byne not use chemical fertilizers on his farm, but he also refrains from using pesticides. He takes pride in the fact that his land is a safe habitat for insects of all kinds – even the pests. Byne believes when left to their own devices, the insects will work things out, creating a balanced ecological system not requiring intervention.

He even discovered that vicious and much-hated fire ant could be an unlikely hero for his blueberry bushes one season when a particularly aggressive insect was decimating blueberry crops across Georgia. His own crops were left unscathed. As it turned out, the larva of that particular insect just happened to be the fire ant’s favorite snack.

Who knew fire ants could have a redeeming quality?

Creating compost from debris is just one of the ways that Byne likes to ensure that resources around his farm are used to their fullest potential. Since entering the blueberry business, he has looked for ways to make sure every berry on his farm finds a home.

“You are asked to farm whatever land you have in your hands. If it’s an acre, what are you doing with that acre? If you get 100 blueberries off and I sell 90 of them fresh, what are you doing with the other 10? Well, I can tell people, I can use every berry … I really like the idea of selling everything that comes off the farm. Because if you cannot sell it, then your loss is taking away from your bottom line.”

Since not all blueberries can make the cut in the fresh berry market, Byne has been quite inventive in finding new ways to use his blueberries and new products to entice even the most hesitant of blueberry eaters.

Byne extended his farm business to include value added products for that very purpose. Realizing that eight percent of his berries did not make the grade for selling in the fresh berry market, Byne began creating products that could make use of those berries which due to size, imperfections or jucyness could not pass muster.

He has come up with a variety of products to appeal to different tastes, because his goal is to ensure that everyone learns to love blueberries!

“My objective was trying to get everybody liking blueberries or something blueberry,” Byne explained. “So, the first products I came up with were jam, jelly and syrup. And then I branched out into desserts and got a sugar-free syrup, I’ve also got a chocolate blueberry, Georgia Bar with blueberries in it, a blueberry salsa, and a blueberry juice.”

Byne Blueberry Farm has always been a family farm. Having started the farm during the 70s with his father and brother, he now continues farming with his own family. Though all four of his daughters grew up helping out with harvesting and packaging, only Janie has returned to work alongside her dad in the family operation. So far. There is some lingering hope, it seems, that maybe others will follow in her path.

Self-described as the more “uptight” of the two, Janie enjoys working with her more laidback dad. “He’s laid back and I’m a little more uptight, so I think we even each other out good.” Byne can’t help but agree. Admitting with some embarrassment that he really doesn’t like to have to be the “bad guy”, especially when dealing with employees.

But aside from occasionally having to take on the role of bad cop, Janie has her own niche on the farm. Bees.

There’s no doubt about it as Janie talks about “her bees” that the hives, their busy inhabitants, and the honey they produce are clearly her domain. Not only do the bees industriously aid in pollination, but they also produce the best-selling product in the Byne Blueberry Farm product line – honey.

Janie, the second oldest of the four Byne daughters, didn’t necessarily plan to follow in her father’s footsteps. But after receiving a degree in marketing from Georgia Southern University and working in Nashville for a few years, she decided that her job in HR for a company with which she didn’t gel was not a very fulfilling way to spend her days.

“I realized I just wasn’t passionate about that company… I do like HR, but I just wasn’t working for a company that long-term, I didn’t care about their goals. The passion that I have for this (farm) didn’t line up with where I was,” Janie explained.

Returning to her family’s farm was just the ticket for reigniting her passion.

“I’ve just always had a passion for it, I guess because we grew up doing it our whole lives. This is what I’ve known since I was small. We’re really sentimental in our family and my grandad was out here when we were little … When we were first starting out, me and my mom and my sisters would all go pick together to have enough berries for the farmer’s stands … From there, we started packing and we were able to get more pickers. Just the journey and the slow progression, we finally got into some good stores like Whole Foods … I just love it!”

Originally published in Issue #3 of Southern Soil
by LeeAnna Tatum

Dirt

 When I was a child my sisters and I would ride out in the country with my grandmother. We would ride to visit her friends , or ride to a old country church that she wanted to china paint. Living in the rural South there is naturally a lot of farm land around us, and so we would pass by farm after farm as she drove us in her old gray Buick. Farms have smells. You can smell some farms miles away, and you learn to associate the smell that goes with the farm at a young age. Cow farm smells are very distinct from chicken farm smells for example. You also learn the smells of the activity that are happening at the farm. You can tell when a farmer has sprayed their cotton field, or when the soil is freshly tilled. It’s like when you know someone in the neighborhood just mowed the lawn. You smell it before you see it…. you see? I’ve walked you through all that just to say when she drove us we often smelled the smell of freshly tilled dirt, my grandmother would say to us “ Do you smell that? Mmmmmm I just love the smell of freshly tilled dirt?” Taking a deep breath to breathe in the smell I’d nod my head and smile in agreement, but secretly I was thinking …. “have you lost your mind? how can you love that smell?!?! It’s dirt!!!” Well I’ve lost my mind too because I am telling you I love that smell now. It’s a glorious smell.  The smell brings back a lot of wonderful memories of my childhood which I’m blessed to say was such a happy one.
   We are tilling lots of soil at the farm right now because we are planting so many new bushes.  We’re wrapping up Zone 1 which is a 6 acre plot of land. Because the farm is small we just can’t move as quickly on projects like many other farmers do in the area. I drive out to the farm each morning with my farming essentials -work boots, long pants, an old t-shirt, and water. I meet the lady I work with on her golf cart, and we load up the plants we need for the area we will be working on. Once we have the bushes we ride out to the area where we will plant.
Each breath I take I breathe in freshly tilled soil, and it soothes my soul. Genesis 3:19 comes to mind as I ponder over my fondness of the smell of dirt “From dust you are and to dust you will return. “  The dirt is apart of me and molds me into who I am. I learned to work on this dirt with my sisters summer after summer. The dirt nurtures the blueberry bushes and continues to nurture me.

Planting Blueberry Plants

Blueberries are a really laid back plant. Do you love blueberries and want a low maintenance plant in your backyard ? Then blueberry plants are for you. Blueberries love an acidic soil with a pH between and 4.0 to 5.0. If you want to be a little high maintenance, you could always send a soil sample to your county extension service to determine the pH in your back yard. It is a fairly simple process and doesn’t cost much. Otherwise, we suggest picking up a few bags of peat moss to plant your blueberry plants in. Follow a few simple steps to grow some happy blueberry plants!

  1. Purchase your plants from a reputable nursery ( we suggest 2 to 3 year old plants) and a few bags of peat moss or milled pine bark.
  2. Dig a hole 1 ft deep with a 2 1/2 ft to 3 ft diameter.
  3. Remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soil and mix the remaining soil in your hole with your peat moss.
  4.  Remove the mixed soil and create a flat surface for your plant at the bottom of the hole.
  5. Place your plant in the hole and cover up with your peat moss or milled pine bark mixture.
  6. Space remaining plants 4 ft to 6 ft apart in order for plants to have enough room to grow.
  7. Space rows of blueberries between 8 ft to 10 ft apart.

If you are planning to plant several rows of bushes, then you would definitely want to have your soil tested to determine the pH. If it was determined that you had a high pH , you would want to spread sulfur 6 months in advance in your field to ensure the soil pH has time to lower to 4.0- 5.0.

For any other questions about planting blueberries give us a call or send us an email! We’d be happy to talk to you about any concerns or questions about growing organic blueberries.

Favorite way to use Blueberry Powder? Smoothies!!

I love the convenience of a smoothie. You can throw several different fruits and vegetables, blend them up , and take them to go. It’s nice to be able to kickstart your morning right with healthy foods that keep you feeling good about yourself and give you the energy you need to get through the day.

Convenience is why we are so excited about our blueberry powder too! It’s so convenient to just mix into a smoothie and take it to go. The shelf life is much longer than fresh blueberries and it doesn’t take up room in the fridge or freezer.

Blueberries are well renown for fighting off free radicals with their super punch of antioxidants. Antioxidants improve your skin health and fight cancer causing free radicals. Every time you eat blueberries or blueberry powder those free radicals get a round house kick to the face.

See below for one of our favorite smoothie recipes with blueberry powder!

Berry Berry Green Smoothie Recipe:

1 cup of spinach or other leafy greens
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of frozen pineapple
1/2 cup of frozen strawberries
1 TBSP of blueberry powder
3-4 small chunks of fresh ginger

Blend and enjoy! If you want a creamier smoothie you could add a little yogurt, or just use almond, coconut or cashew milk.

Blueberry Field Expansion Project

The demand for Byne Blueberries is much higher than the old days. Gone are the days of packing up flats by hand for the Columbia Farmers Market, the days when my mother, my sisters and I would sit all day at the market literally praying that a buyer would come by and purchase all the pints we had so carefully packed. Those days I do not want back, but we wouldn’t have gotten where we are today with out them. The sweat and tears of hard family labor has paid off, and now we are taking on the task of expanding. It is the first time in 30 years that we have expanded, and the anticipation is great. We would never have made it to this point, if it hadn’t been for family team work. We have worked so hard to make our business what it is, and cheers to us for not giving up.

I was watching Gone With the Wind on Netflix the other night, and I always get chills when Scarlett O’Hara’s father tells her that “land is the only thing worth living for , worth fighting for because it’s the only thing that lasts” I identify so much with that statement. My families’ love for our land and our blueberry plants runs deeps.The land has been my families’ means of survival since before I was born. Farming is tough-it’s humbling. The ups and downs will just about knock the ever-living breath out of you. But my parents passion for blueberry farming is contagious, and they give my sisters and I a lot of credit for making our business what it is today. My sisters and I are extremely sentimental about our blueberry farm, but it’s because our parents are. They taught us to love it like they do, and the recognition for our hard work kept our sentiment strong. We worked right along side our parents to survive, and the love we have for our blueberry farm will never die.

We hope this expansion will allow us to spread the joy our blueberries bring into many more homes and nurture the other hard-working families out there. We take much pride in providing families with a healthy, delicious fruit. The benefits of our labor we know will be sweet! Thanks to all our loyal customers throughout the years. Your continued support has been a blessing to our family for the last 30 years!

Governor Deal’s Super Bowl Bet Puts Waynesboro Blueberry Farm in National Spotlight

WAYNESBORO, GA (WFXG) – Richard byne and his wifeGovernors Nathan Deal and Charlie Baker have bet each other a wide assortment of delicacies from around their states.
Chocolate blueberries from Dick and Linda Byne’s Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro are a part of Deal’s wager, and it has been good for business.”We usually get about 25 hits on our website,” said Dick Byne. “I think we’ve exceeded 10,000 as of Friday. So, we’ve been inundated and I talked to the lady that does my website and she said it’s two-week’s worth of work and she may need some help.”

His wife, Linda, says they did not see this coming at all.

“It was a total surprise,” said Linda. “The first I saw on it was someone text Dick Bynes and saw the post from Facebook.”

Blueberry plants are dormant this time of year, but they managed to fill Governor Deal’s order.

“He probably got at least five pounds of blueberries,” said Dick.

And there’s plenty more where that came from to meet a possible boom in demand.

“We’ve probably got 60,000 pounds just in storage,” said Dick. “And we’re going to sell all those off during the year.”

The Bynes say they want the Atlanta Falcons to win, though it may actually be better for their business to have the New England Patriots come out on top.
If Deal loses the bet, then a northern audience would be exposed to the Byne blueberries, possibly creating new customers.

“We would be so excited if the Falcons won,” said Linda. “I believe they can. We’ve enjoyed watching them all season. But even if we lose, there’s our name out there.”

Regardless of the result, Dick Bynes says it’s been humbling to have his family’s blueberries put on the national stage.

“Nathan Deal didn’t have to pick my product. How many products are there in the whole state of Georgia that he could have chosen from?”

Harvest season for blueberries typically falls in June or July, but until then he’s still taking orders.
Since they are out of season, his stock is in frozen storage and may take inside a week to prepare depending on the size of the order.

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