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Sweet summer trip: Where to get your blueberry fix in southwest Michigan

Jay Jones, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Travel News

Mike DeGrandchamp's boast is as big as his sprawling blueberry farm, about half a mile east of Lake Michigan.

"We were in the drive-thru business before McDonald's," he said.

In fact, in the late 1950s -- more than 15 years before Mickey D's sold its first burgers from a drive-up window -- DeGrandchamp's mom was selling blueberries to vacationers, most of them from the Chicago area, who'd veer off U.S. Highway 31 on the outskirts of South Haven.

Motorists didn't have to get out of their cars at Beatrice DeGrandchamp's roadside stand. A driver would simply roll down the window, hand her a dollar and get three pints of farm-fresh blueberries in return.

The wooden shack with its red and yellow bunting is long gone, but during July and August, the parking lot at DeGrandchamp Farms is crowded with cars. Mike said most of them still have Illinois plates.

For generations, people visiting the beaches at South Haven and beyond have made a point of stopping at the 250-acre farm to buy blueberries. More likely than not, they'll grab pails and head off into the rows of bushes to pick the navy-colored fruit.

 

"It's a family outing to get out on the farm," said DeGrandchamp, whose last name, in French, means "big field."

Just a couple of hours' drive from Chicago, in fields large and small, berries ripen in stages from late June until around Labor Day in the area nicknamed "Blueberry Capital of the World." U-pick opportunities abound. Restaurants create special dishes featuring the region's berry bounty, and people plow face first into blueberries during pie-eating contests.

U-pick is small fry compared to Michigan's commercial harvest of about 100 million pounds a year, most of it from three, lake-hugging counties in the southwest corner of the state. Stretching from South Haven to Holland, the region's acidic soil and a microclimate created by the lake make ideal growing conditions.

"It's the lake effect," said Joe Corrado of Joe's Blues, a relatively small farm near Bangor, a few miles inland from South Haven. "It provides a layer of protection in the cold."

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