LINCOLN — Rob Exendine’s dream to own a farm has become a berry good enterprise for customers wishing to pick the sweet fruits of summer at Anne’s Acres Blueberry Farm in Lincoln.
Rob grew up in Mexico, Mo., lived on a small farm and was involved in the Future Farmers of America. He’d always wanted to farm, but due to the economy of the 1970s it wasn’t possible for him at the time. Rob eventually joined the Air Force, and went to college, receiving a degree in aviation at what was then Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. It wasn’t until years later that Rob, now a private pilot, felt he could finally afford a farm.
“So I thought, aviation can support my habit of farming,” he said.
He decided to try a “niche market” and he and his wife Leslie began planting blueberry plants, turning their property into Anne’s Acres Blueberry Farm. With his dream becoming a reality and the fruits of his labor paying off, Rob is now vice-president of the Missouri Blueberry Council.
“We’ve been U-picking for the last four years,” Rob told the Democrat on Tuesday. “The berries take a long time to build up, I’ve planted a few more every year, so we’re just a little over 4,000 plants. I want to keep growing and growing.”
Blueberry picking for the 2014 season began Tuesday at Anne’s Acres. Rob said the picking season would last four to five weeks, but he has plans this summer for expansion.
Customers pick their own berries at Anne’s Acres. Rob said they have several different varieties such as the older ones, Blue Jay and Blue Ray, and numerous others such as Collins, Patriots and Chandler. Rob said the difference in the varieties are how they cluster on the bush as they grow.
“Some of them will be a loose cluster and berries will all be separated, others will be tightly clustered,” he said. “Some of them will be a flat berry, some will be a round berry, some are larger. What I’m leaning to now is a lot of larger ones — they are easy to pick.”
Picking for the customer is made easy at the farm.
“You come in and we’ve got the buckets with the plastic bags and other apparatuses to pick with,” he said. “And I take you out or my wife does. We’ll get you where some good bushes are, and not overly picked, and you start picking. And I’ll show you, if you’ve never picked before, which ones to pick. And I bring you back up here, and you get to take them home.”
Rob said he is within five years of retiring as an aircraft technician and civil servant at Whiteman Air Force Base and has plans for the farm to grow.
The Exendines will be adding a store to the west of their log cabin-style home on their property. Construction will begin this summer.
“The store, in a couple years, should be up and running,” he said.
The store, like the couple’s home, will have a log cabin theme with a wrap-around porch where customers can relax. Public restrooms will also be provided.
“Inside the store we’ll do balsamic vinegars, olive oils, we’re developing it as we go,” he added. “Agri-tourism, that’s where we’re heading.”
The Exendines also plan to double their blueberry plants and to add blackberries, plums, honey producing bees and persimmon trees.
“Not the native Missouri persimmon but these are Prok American, they’re a lot larger and you can make something with them without a lot of work,” he said. “And we’re looking at some cherry trees — the Bing-type cherries with the thicker skin.”
The farm is a family production. Daughter Kaleigh still lives at home and attends Lincoln High School, while daughter Casey Lawrence lives in Jefferson City and helps with the farm’s social media needs.
The Exendine’s daughter and son-in-law Kadey and Steffen Sartain, of Smithton, help frequently. Steffen is the “bee-master” working with the bee hives.
“We’re getting into the honey, but won’t have any until next year,” Rob said. “The blueberry honey is totally different than most wildflower honey.”
“It’s much darker,” Leslie added. “It’s not really golden, its a light brown.”
“Maybe a bronze color,” Rob said.
“And it’s very sweet,” Leslie noted.
All work and no play isn’t good, so Rob said his wife Leslie cooks with blueberries all the time and the family enjoys her homemade treats frequently.
“We always put blueberries in pancakes” Leslie said. “If you want something different, (try) blueberries and pears with walnuts and honey and a little bit of cinnamon.”
She said to saute the ingredients together in a small pan while the pancakes are cooking.
“Then you have a new topping for your pancakes,” she said. “And of course if you want a blueberry syrup, you just add a little sugar to the blueberries in the saute pan. And you can cook it in an instant, you don’t have to bottle it, you can make it right then.”
If the berries are juicy no water is necessary; the berries will cook down with the sugar or honey. Straining the syrup isn’t necessary either — the berry pulp adds to the deliciousness of the pancake syrup.
“Leave that good fruit in there,” she said.
“And for the Fourth of July we make a blueberry pizza,” she added. “That’s made with crescent rolls. We try and get easy recipes from people who don’t actually bake.”
The pizza is made with equal parts of cream cheese and powdered sugar and a sprinkle of lemon juice over the crust and then the berries are spread on top.
“If you are doing blueberries you just put blueberries on top,” she said. “If you are doing the Fourth of July you put strawberries and blueberries for the stars on the flag.”
Leslie said the family makes blueberry muffins, blueberry scones, pie, jam and salsa.
On Tuesday morning she had made blueberry scones from an easy recipe given to her by Nancy Stomp, of Osceola. Stomp is one of the farm’s pickers, Leslie said.
“It’s extremely easy,” Leslie said. “You put everything in the food processor, fold in the berries and cook it for 15 minutes. I do an egg wash on mine and do a little sugar.”
Leslie noted that blueberries are good for you, with only 84 calories per cup and they are full of antioxidants.
For those interested in fresh summer berries, Anne’s Acres Blueberry Farm is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The cost is $3 a pound for U-pick and if farm picked, if available, $6 a pound. They are located at 20521 Fordney in Lincoln and can be found at facebook.com/AnnesAcres. For more information call 547-0251, 221-5906 or 221-7978 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.