WEEKI WACHEE — It’s u-picking time at Margo’s Blueberry Farm in Weeki Wachee, and the pickin’s good.
“We didn’t pick commercially this year, so we have a lot more for the u-picker,” said Hunter McCann, daughter of Tony Murchio, who started helping with planting and fertilizing when she was just a third-grader.
Picking started a couple of weeks ago on the farm, at 15056 Eckerley Drive, and will run through May, she said. As she spoke, loud bangs from an automated cannon blasted periodically to scare off the birds. They like the blueberries as much as the customers, McCann said.
Pickers have two varieties to choose from: Farthing and Spring High. The Spring High is sweeter, but McCann likes the flavor of the Farling better.
Murchio moved from New Port Richey in 1987 and bought some acreage in northwest Hernando County. Around 2000 he thought of farming some of the land, and thought trees for lumber made sense.
“Then someone brought up blueberries, so we ended up doing that,” he recalled.
It was the right choice, as two decades ago it was the salad days (or in his case, the fruit salad days) with Florida blueberries the first to market and commanding a good price for farmers. The income allowed him to buy more land and expand the operation. But good times didn’t last. Farms in Mexico and Chile would crop up, under-selling Florida farmers and making things a lot tougher for them.
“It’s why we’re not commercial picking this year,” said Murchio. “It’s just not worth it; the government is no help with tariffs or restrictions on foreign berries, so we’re surviving on u-pick right now.”
He gets $4 a pound if you pick them yourself and a bit more if you’d rather not. Picking hours and other info is online at www.margosblueberryfarm.com or on Facebook by searching the farm’s name.
Murchio currently has 7 acres of blueberries planted. He has room for more, but he’s looking to use some of that land to try blackberries and muscadine grapes to boost profits, as “you’re not going to get rich growing blueberries these days; those days are gone.”
From hungry birds to disease and weather, farming is always a challenge, said Murchio, who hedges his bet against the elements working as a bail bondsman.
Mary Watson of Spring Hill is glad Murchio is sticking to it. She was in his Farthing field one recent sunny day, plucking plump, dark-blue berries with her daughter, Breanne Cardenas, and her three grandchildren.
“They have great blueberries every year and the price is great,” she said.
The several pounds of blueberries they gather get put to good use.
“We just eat them fresh on cereal, back muffins or jam; then we freeze some for later.”
Murchio is happy with the crop this year, and says despite passing on wholesaling, 2021 will without a doubt be better than 2020.
“Last year the bottom fell out (due to the COVID-19 shutdowns) at the same time we started picking,” he said. “Bad timing; it was not a good year for us.”
Perhaps stoicism is the guiding philosophy that best gets farmers through it all, and Murchio seems to have embraced its principals.
“You do what you can and accept what you can’t do anything about,” he said.