By Colleen Mahoney

Burdick Blueberries has been a staple in the East Otto community since the 1950s, drawing customers from as far as Toronto and as close as around the corner. Although it has changed hands a few times, the blueberry patch has never left the family.

It all started when John Milton Burdick visited a wild blueberry patch in Napoli as a child. He and his family frequented the patch to pick wild blueberries, meeting other families who were enjoying the same experience.

In 1937, the Mansfield dairy farmer and his wife Pauline, were looking for something else during the failing economy, so they rented land in East Otto, where they began growing potatoes. During their big crop rotation a few years later, Burdick knew he didn’t want to go back to dairy farming and thought again of his childhood in Napoli.

In the early 1950s, the couple gave their dairy farm to their son, Rusty, and bought an 80-acre farm. The Michigan State educated Burdick decided to give cultivated highbush blueberries a try and planted some in the eastern most section of his field. The bushes flourished, and Burdick, along with hired helper Charlie Stone, soon planted 500 more. As the plants began producing, the Burdicks officially opened Burdick Blueberries, a pick-your-own patch.

“Some of these bushes are 60 years old, and the farm’s been in the family for 70 years,” said current owner Amy Edwards, Burdick’s granddaughter.

Since its inception, Burdick Blueberries has grown to have 30,000 bushes and has been in the hands of Burdick; his daughter and son-in-law, Helen and Roger Edwards; their daughter Paula Edwards and now, Paula’s sister Amy Edwards. Paula Edwards took over the farm in the 1990s, after her parents retired. Paula Edwards ran the farm, along with Terri Regulski, until she passed away in December 2014, leaving the farm to her sister Amy, who lived in San Diego, and their brother Peter.

“Paula brought her own beautiful, creative touch to a farm already flourishing,” reads the farm’s website. “[She] exuded a bursting poetic approach to life. It seems the berries grew sweeter with Paula’s special touch.”

After Paula’s passing, Amy Edwards had to decide if she wanted to move home and take over the farm. The seven-year San Diego resident was enjoying her life and had a job she loved.

“It was a really hard decision to move back from Southern California,” Edwards said.

Ultimately, it was the joy customers get when they pick their own blueberries that brought Edwards and her partner Beth Strasser to the farm.  Last summer, a customer told her he loved coming here because nothing ever changes.

“I thought, he’s right. The only thing that has changed is now we have an electric weighing scale.”

The pair pulled in on April 1, 2015, and the next day began pruning the bushes, something that needs to be done annually.  Next they dealt with a rainy summer, including the July 14 East Otto flood, which slowed the ripening process and pushed back the season.

“That’s the life of a farmer … you just have to be ready for anything,” Edwards said.

Although their first season has had its troubles, both Edwards and Strasser said their neighbors and community members have been nothing but supportive, offering to help, with anything, to make the transition smoother for the new owners.

“They’ve been so incredibly welcoming and supportive, it’s so nice,” Strasser said. “They said, ‘What can we do to help? We want you to succeed.’”

In addition to the community, Edwards said the joy she sees on customers’ faces when they’re picking their berries makes her sure she made the right choice to keep it open.

“That joy it brings people … that’s the really fun part,” Edwards said. “I had someone call me to make sure we were ready. Then they drove two hours to pick blueberries and stayed overnight in a Springville hotel.  It’s amazing how far some people come.”

Continuing on with what her family has built, including the “you-pick-them” fresh flowers Paula added while she ran the patch, is Edwards’ main goal, for now.

“My mom and sister were the gardeners … I just did what they told me to do,” Edwards said. “I’m still adjusting to losing my sister … I have to remind myself she’s not here. This was all her.”

With the end of the peak season coming, Edwards said she and Strasser are trying to figure out what they want to do moving forward. They do know, however, that they will continue to sell Amish pies and goat milk fudge – customer favorites – and print the Blueberry Recipes courtesy of Burdick Blueberries, each year.

Burdick Blueberries will reopen within the next week or two, for the third pick. Edwards recommends calling before arriving to make sure they have blueberries ready to be picked.

Burdick Blueberries is located at 8267 Thompson Road in East Otto. Call (716) 257-9760, or visit them at www.burdickblueberries.net and on Facebook.