JT Lyon, the owner of the Lyon Blueberry Farm, has one simple instruction for visitors: “I’ll give you a bucket, and you go out there and fill it up.”
Each gallon bucket is new, he’ll tell you, and he doesn’t want them back. If you take a bucket out of his stockpile, it’s yours — even if you barely put any blueberries in it. And you pay for the berries when you come back out to your car, after you pick them.
Lyon welcomes anyone who is willing to forage into the lines of blueberry bushes he and his family have planted. He has his own system down to a T, from how his berries are handled, to where the picking will be most bountiful. On the day Weld was out at the farm, this happened to be three and four rows back and to the left.
“There’s all kind of pickin’ in there,” he told customers.
Lyon and his wife moved to the area about 30 years ago, and they both decided that blueberries would be a productive hobby to adopt when he retired from Alabama Power. “At that time my daughter was young. She was still in high school, and the three of us planted that field right there — it’s an acre and a half. And then I planted the other field over there on the other side of it, so that was… I don’t know what year that was, but anyway, we lived in that house right there for about 10 years, and then, in ’96 or ’97, we built that house over there and moved over there in it,” he said. “So those berries are getting some age on them. Of course, I’ve cut them down several times during that time because they grow up, and they get so big [that] they’re hard to pick; you have to pull them over to get to them.”
After feeling cramped up in an Alabama Power office, being outdoors has proven to be a welcome change for Lyon, who describes himself as the “kind of person that enjoyed getting out and working — doing stuff with my hands.” He estimates that there are 1,500 blueberry plants on his land, and this doesn’t count the tomato and blackberry plants to which he also tends.
“It’s a good bit of work, but, you know, you gotta be doing something. I figure you’ll die if you just sit down and do nothing, so I try to keep myself busy,” he said.
In some ways, the blueberry farm is also a family business, with Lyon’s sister and brother-in-law, Pat and James “Doug” Dove, stepping in to help out as necessary.
“One day he had to go somewhere and we filled in for him down here, and I told him it was so much fun. I like seeing the people,” said Pat Dove, “It was more fun than it was work.”
She said that last year’s crop was so lush that you could just run your hands down the plant and the berries would fall off. “They were so plentiful and easy to pick, you could just pull them off and put them in your bucket,” Dove said.
Even Lyon’s daughter got in on the fun, he said. “My daughter was kidding me one day. She had already gotten her degree and been working for some time; she was a pharmacist. And she asked me one day, she said, ‘Daddy, when am I going to start getting my cut out of them blueberries?’ I said, ‘Well, honey, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until I get through with them.’”
Having prime blueberry plants is a goal Lyon talks proudly of; even the process of deciding what plant to grow was a strategic move.
“We all talked about it, we felt like [blueberries] would be the crop,” he said, “I didn’t have to plant [it] every year; it would be there. They take very little fertilizing most of the time; if you let them get back down and really needing some help, it takes a good bit to get them back going like they need to, but they don’t require every-year maintenance.”
And while blueberries don’t generally take much maintenance, especially in comparison to other crops, Lyon described how this year, they’re going to require a lot more work, saying he’ll need to cut the field down so they can rejuvenate and come back even better next year.
“At that time, blueberries [weren’t] that high on the totem pole,” he said. But he ultimately realized the value in the fruit and decided it would be a good crop to invest in. “I felt like, ‘They may not be good now, but in the future, I believe it’s going to come up real good,’ and thank goodness that it did turn out where they are good.”
After all, having a farm is what Lyon always wanted to do, even when he first started working at Alabama Power all those years ago.
“I’m grateful that it turned out as well as it did,” Lyon said. “Everybody likes them, I enjoy sitting out here talking to everybody. … Everybody that comes out here seems to enjoy themselves, and it always makes you feel good to know you’ve had a little bit of something to do with somebody enjoying their life.”
Lyon Farm Blueberries is located at 1700 County Road 56, Wilsonville, 35186. Cost is $13 for a gallon of blueberries. For more information, call JT Lyon at (205) 864-5701.