On the Job: A berry good idea

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SUQUALENA, Miss. (WTOK) - It's the season of sunshine, swimming pools and sweet summer treats like blueberries.

For this edition of On the Job, I'm taking a closer look at what it takes to be a blueberry grower by an expert at one of this area's most popular farms.

Picture this: Suqualena 1984 - Robin Johnson is at home with two young kids, looking for a way to bring in some extra money. Suddenly, she and her husband are struck by a BERRY good idea.

"We tried to think of something we could grow that might bring in some money to get them through college," Robin Johnson explains. "I always say thank goodness they were smart children and could get scholarships because the blueberries never brought in much money!"

I ask her what her kids think about the venture all these years later.

"They left home as soon as they could!" she laughs.

So that's how Johnson Blueberry Farm came to be. It started small.

"We had $150 and we put in our first 150 plants, doing it all by hand," Johnson says.

That was more than 30 years ago. Now, there are more than 4 acres of blueberries. It's a thriving business that keeps the Johnsons very busy.

"Our day starts with customers at 7 a.m. But we have a few people that pick berries for us," she says. "My husband and I will pick some of the berries. Now today, I'm probably finished, it's getting so hot. But sometimes we've picked 1,000 buckets full. Some years, 2,000 buckets full."

Not just any berry will do. I ask Robin for tips on how to pick the perfect blueberry.

"When they plump up, you know that they're ready for picking," she says. "Also, they'll come off the bush very easy."

An easy trick: taste the berries. She says the bigger and bluer the berry is, the sweeter it tastes. That's what they advise their customers, and hungry customers are out from morning to night filling their buckets.

I ask her about her stress level.

"Oh my gosh that's a hard question! When you're very tired at the end of the day, it can get a little stressful," she says. But most of the time, it's just enjoyable. We enjoy the people who come out. As I said, you make a lot of lifelong friends."

Johnson Blueberry Farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. If you have any suggestions for a career you'd like to see featured "On the Job," email me at candace.barnette@wtok.com.