BUSH, La. — For this week's Access Code, we are still on the Northshore picking blueberries in Bush, La., which is in the 70431 ZIP code.

Bush is in St. Tammany Parish, with a population of 5,687 people. Alongside the blueberry farm, there are two vineyards - Ponchartrain Vineyards and Serendipity Vineyards. There is also Splendor Farms which features horseback riding, stables and more.

In this episode, we are featuring Blue Harvest Farms. When we visited it was pouring down rain, but that didn't stop the fun.

Blue Harvest Farms sees between 5,000-7,000 people each season to pick blueberries. Owner Chris Pinto and his wife have eight acres of organic blueberries - that's just shy of 6,000 plants.

But blueberries was never his plan.

"When I was in college, I had a summer internship working in middle Georgia and was exposed to these pecan orchards that were just majestic. And I vowed that one day I'd live on a pecan orchard," Pinto said.

Pinto sold a company, bought some land and set out to make that pecan orchard dream a reality. But when he started to do his research, he found out that it wasn't realistic.

"An irrigation expert that gave me some advice said that I'd be 80 before that field looked how I expected it to look," Pinto said. "So, as he was hanging up the phone, he said, 'You ought to do some research on blueberries.' So I had too much time on my hands and made a phone call. And one thing led to another."

In 2006, Pinto planted seven acres and waited. The second season they were in the ground, the 5,000 plants produced a lot of berries. He decided to invite his friends and family to come pick them.

One night, 50 people were in the fields. It was too small to be a commercial operation, but the family decided to try to open it to the public. They ran a few advertisements and the next thing they knew people were coming out in droves.

"I still scratch my head as to how," Pinto said. "Come here on a Saturday morning - it's crazy. It looks like the Walmart parking lot."

Blue Harvest Farms is not your typical "you pick" farm. Pinto says he's not in the business to get rich. He believes in quality, so pickers have to be flexible. The schedule changes week to week.

"Because my crowds are so big, we could get picked hard one day and it wouldn't be worth coming the next day," Pinto explains. "So I need to give them time for the berries that are behind those to ripen up. I don't like to, because people drive from so far. But I want to be worth their while when they get here."

And it's not just berries. Pinto also sells honey that comes from bee boxes in the back of his fields. His in-laws also have a company called Michael's Pickles. They travel to festivals around the country selling their sweet and spicy pickles and an assortment of jellies and salsas.

The jellies are made with Pinto's blueberries and you can buy those on-site. The labels are really cool and feature family pictures.

Pinto's wife is a professional potter and you can also buy her pottery.

And with a new pavilion, there are also plans to one-day host events like weddings, concerts and corporate events. The farm hosted its first wedding in April and it went off without a hitch.

Pinto calls his unexpected business a "hobby that got out of control." It's a lot of work, but his family truly enjoys its customers.

"I give hugs to people that I see once a year, but I know them by name. I've watched, certain people came in one year and their kids were in diapers. And now the kids are young teens. That's the cool part about it," Pinto said.


WWL-TV reporter Leslie Spoon can be reached at lspoon@wwltv.com.