The older Howard Burnley gets, the more he realizes his abundant life has become overgrown. Mr. Burnley, known to all his friends as "Tootie," owns and operates a pick-your-own blueberry establishment on Salem Road called Crystal Farm.
In addition to the blueberry farm, Mr. Burnley had a concrete business, which he sold recently. Mr. Burnley said the farm has been successful since he first began in 1993. This year, the farm is still flourishing, but Mr. Burnley feels it's overtaking him.
Howard "Tootie" Burnley says his blueberries are larger than those in stores.
Photo by Lynn Davidson
"The concrete business kept me busy, then I had five grandkids come along," Mr. Burnley said. "You know, grandkids take a lot of time. ... Then there's my health; I've had seven heart catheterizations and open heart surgery ... Before you know it, I don't have time to keep up with it all."
The rainy season has added to the flourishing condition of the farm. This year, the five-acres of blueberry bushes have produced more than 15,000 lbs. of berries. But along with the berries, the rain enhanced the conditions for grass and weeds.
Mr. Burnley said he has been unable to routinely mow the grass between the rows, and poison ivy has grown on many plants. He said he feels as if "everything in the world is working against me. ... I'm ashamed of (the condition of the farm)," and decided not to advertise this year.
In spite of not advertising, many people stop by the farm every day to pick or purchase blueberries. Mr. Burnley, who describes himself as "sentimental," goes out to speak to everyone who stops by.
Monday afternoon, Carolyn McDaniel came with the family dog and four teenagers to pick berries. Mrs. McDaniel said she has been bringing the family for years.
"We always just come. He's so kind, even when he was sick, he's kind to us; we love it," she said.
Before getting their buckets, Mr. Burnley walked the teens to his fenced-in pond to feed the catfish, pigs, and goats. Then, as he gave them their buckets for picking berries, Mr. Burnley teased them, "You can eat all you want, but you've got to get weighed first, so I'll know how much to charge you when you're done."
Mr. Burnley said he has two dreams for his farm. First, he'd like to sell it to "somebody who would take care of it." The property for sale consists of five acres with 2,000 blueberry bushes, a small house, and a shed. Mr. Burnley said when he advertises, the farm easily earns $4,000 in 30 days.
If he can't sell, Mr. Burnley plans to clear out the undergrowth when the weather turns cold, prune the berry plants, install an irrigation system, and continue farming.
"Everybody knows me, some hope I fail, and some hope I do good," Mr. Burnley said.
Blueberry season lasts from the middle of June until the end of July. Mr. Burnley sells pre-picked blueberries for approximately $1.75 per pound. For more information, contact Mr. Burnley at 595-5945.