The Blueberry Years

The Blueberry Years

The Blueberry Years
A Memoir of Farm and Family
Winner of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s Best Nonfiction Book for 2010.

Second Place in Southern Environmental Law Center’s Annual Book Contest.

Paperback release: May 8, 2012.

bby_coverThe Blueberry Years captures the story of Minick’s experience creating and operating one of the mid-Atlantic’s first certified-organic, pick-your-own blueberry farms. For a decade, the author and his wife planted, pruned, and picked while also opening the field to hundreds of people who came to harvest berries. These pickers shared blueberry-flavored moonshine and sober religion, warm hugs and cool hats, and always bushels of stories. To give a larger context to the Minicks’ story, the author includes brief chapters on national issues such as organic foods and new farmers. He also includes short interludes on all things blueberry, like the fruit’s many health benefits or the blueberry in literature. Ultimately, though, this book tells the story of a young couple pursuing their blueberry dream.

Order a copy of The Blueberry Years from your favorite bookstore, from on-line vendors such as Better World Books, Amazon,Barnes & Noble, or Borders, or support your local bookseller. For a list of independent bookstores, visit

ISBN: 978-0-312-57142-9

Click here for a review from the Tennessee Humanities.

“A truly inspiring story, in gorgeous prose, about one family’s journey into blueberry farming. Delicious reading.”

— Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America and The Beauty Myth.

“There is so much to praise in this beautifully written memoir, but what I admire most is Jim Minick’s utter lack of self-righteousness. In these pages we are given a wisdom that has, at its center, a quiet and abiding humility. What a fine, fine book The Blueberry Years is.”

— Ron Rash, author of Serena

From the folks at Whitesbog Preservation Trust where blueberries were first domesticated: The Blueberry Years “offers gentle wisdom on the path to blueberry enlightenment.”

The Blueberry Years covers much more than just Minick’s farm. The story is the compelling personal experience of a young couple living out their dream. He grew friendships along with his berries and fought prejudice and short-sightedness along with the weeds,” said

— Viki Rouse, associate professor of English at Walters State Community College, Morristown, TN.

Fredericksburg’s Free-Lance Star called The Blueberry Years an “unexpected delight.”

“I can’t think of anyone I more admire these days than Jim Minick. He is the real thing — a man of humility and grace who writes beautifully about the struggles of ordinary life.”

— Robert Hicks, author of Widow of the South

Anita Firebaugh, reviewer for The Roanoke Times:

“Minick, a poet whose honest prose sings with the rhythms of cicadas on a sultry summer eve, writes of their efforts with love and longing.

“While it is tempting to place this story squarely among others concerning themselves with the local food movement, Minick’s book deserves something more.

“This is a sweet and important story of hope and fortitude, love and determination, loneliness and heartbreak. It’s a story of a ripening desire, one echoed in the hearts and minds, if not the actions, of poets, dreamers and homesteaders everywhere.”

Mark Shonbeck, Virginia Biological Farmer: In The Blueberry Years, “the prose is as nourishing as the berries.”

Margaret Renkl, Chapter 16: “Fans of Michael Pollan ought to flock to this book.”

“What makes The Blueberry Years stand out among books on the organic and local food movements is how personal and experiential it is. We don’t just watch Jim and Sarah farm—we farm with them, our senses immersed in soil, weather, and plants, our hearts pulsing with their setbacks and their glories. Minick tells an unforgettable story, featuring characters we recognize, nail-biting moments of suspense, and hilarious mishaps, all steeped in the bittersweet poignancy of chasing dreams and finally leaving some behind. This book is gorgeous and important and totally engaging.”

— Ann Pancake, author of Strange as the Weather Has Been

“Jim Minick is one of those farmers we all can look up to. And he can write. As I read, I remembered my own blueberry afternoons picking for market. Savor Jim’s prose, then go after the real thing: take the kids to a blueberry patch, pick up a jar of raw cream, whip it, and feast on a truly simple dessert. Or try one of the luscious recipes. And then feel good, because local food is good for farmers and for the countryside. But for me, the first and last reason to eat local food is still the same: it tastes better.”

— Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why

“A personal look at the daily functions of a small-scale farm enterprise.”

— Steven Hopp, co-author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

“A surpriser. When I started reading The Blueberry Years, I figured I was about to learn everything there is to know about starting and maintaining a blueberry farm. That is true, but this book is about much more. What Jim Minick does is to paint a lovely picture of how a few people come together on a little farm to enjoy each other’s quirks and commonalities along with good food. Everyone talks these days about growing local food for local markets. Here’s what it’s like to really do it.”

— Gene Logsdon, author of Pope Mary and The Church of Almighty Good Food.

“This charming, homespun memoir of organic blueberry farming, written with lyrical grace by a poet-scholar, is a modern georgic, contemplating one local facet of our global food system.”

— Sharyn McCrumb, New York Times bestselling author

“That Jim Minick is a poet is clear in every page of this book, not just in vivid descriptions, wordplay and lyrical cadences, but in the quiet depth, the wise connections, the warmth and understanding brought to the account of a farm, a family, a community, and way of life. Part instruction manual (with asides on etymology, history, taxonomy and recipes), memoir, meditation, chronicle and confession, The Blueberry Years is an intimate visit to a delightful place with an inspired guide.”

— Robert Morgan, author of Boone: A Biography

“The Blueberry Years is about food relationships, but also about food revolution. Minick captures the heart and soul of the food healing movement, a story that can never be told enough.”

— Joel F. Salatin, author of You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef.

Book Clubs rave about it too. Here’s a sampling:

Dreama Kattenbraker, Fincastle, VA Bookclub

“It will be hard to enjoy a book on the level we enjoyed The Blueberry Years–a real high point for all of us.”

The University of Nebraska at Kearney Women’s Club Evening Book Group read “The Blueberry Years,” and was thrilled to have author Jim Minick make a ‘guest appearance’ via conference call. Here are what some members had to say:

“It was a wonderful experience to have the author comment on our questions and gave me a very different perspective on the book after our discussion then I had coming in. Having the creator of the work “in the room” brought a deeper level of understanding to the group as a whole, which I felt allowed a much richer discussion.” — Elizabeth Ann Wethington

“The Blueberry Years” blends heart, humor, and history with a giant dose of blood, sweat, and tears. It is a wholesome read, and wonderfully informative, especially for those who dream of living close to Mother Nature.” – Melissa Hartman

“Members of the book club continue to talk about how much they enjoyed hearing Jim’s actual ‘voice’ and comparing it to how they envisioned him in the story. Hearing the author talk firsthand about the challenges, rewards, and disappointments he and his wife encountered in their venture still resonates with my fellow readers and me.” — Pam Hanson

From readers:

Brenda Evans: “Minick’s ‘Blue Interlude’ sections top Steinbeck’s in Grapes of Wrath and Melville’s in Moby Dick. That’s my non-professional, non-literary-critic opinion, but I think I’m right. Then, the loneliness theme that he comes back to again and again is powerful, especially in “What We Fear” and “The Pickers II”. The longing, loss, and joy mooshed together, yet divisible, each discernible–that resonates with me. A great book.”

Barb Davis-Pyles: “Just finished reading The Blueberry Years this morning — loved it! Now I’m hankering blueberries, and it’s only April.”

Marcia Nelson: “Your book is fabulous! Couldn’t put it down & didn’t want it to end. I grew up in Kona, Hawaii & your story reminded me of the rural coffee farms. Thank you for sharing your story.”

Bobbi Hahn: “I’ve just finished The Blueberry Years! What a gifted writer you are; your poetry is woven throughout the pages, giving the book a feel I’ve not often found.”

School Visit:

Kathy Mangan, McDaniel College: “I wish every academic week had an inspiring poet plugged into the middle of it! You were wonderful and giving with both the audience at the poetry reading and the students in the class. Your visit to McDaniel was—on all fronts—a rousing success.”

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Next Big Thing Blog Hop

“The Next Big Thing” is a blog hop where writers around the world share what they’re working on by responding to ten questions. Thanks to Denton Loving who invited me to the game. You can read his post at I’m tagging Frank X Walker, Abigail DeWitt, Dana Wildsmith, Neil Sagebiel, and Jane Sasser. We’ll see their answers next week.

What is your working title of your book?
Fire Is Your Water, which is a line from a Rumi poem. The full line and epigraph of this novel is “If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.”

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My great-grandmother, Ida Franklin Minick, was a healer. When the family barn burned in the early 1950s, she, her daughter-in-law (my grandmother Sarah), and my uncle were the only ones home. The three of them ran into the blazing building and saved all of the animals. In the process, my grandmother severely burned her hands. Afterward, though, Ida did not heal Sarah’s hands; another relative was called in to do that. The why behind this has fascinated me for much of my life. Was Ida too shocked by the fire? What happened to her in the burning building that she could not heal? Or put another way, who heals the healer?
And then later, this question emerged: What happens when the healer, a devotedly religious person, falls in love with a non-religious person? These two questions drive this novel.

What genre does your book fall under?
Novel/Literary Fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since this takes place in the early 1950s, let’s just make this Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They always had some amazing sparks in the movies they made together.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
How fire transforms people.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I plan to send it to my agent, Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Services. Hopefully she’ll find it a home.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first complete draft took roughly 1-2 years; I’m working on the eighth draft right now. I’ve been working on this book (interspersed w/ other books) for over a dozen years. First, I thought it would be nonfiction, but eventually I saw the need to combine several family stories that cover four generations and thirty years. To do so required the use of fiction. Since this is my first foray into this genre, I had a lot to learn in the process. But that’s the whole point, the process.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s easier to call up writers who have influenced me. These include Cormac McCarthy, Ron Rash, Jeannette Walls, and John Casey, along with Darnell Arnoult, Fred Chappell, and James Galvin. Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible has also been a touchstone.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It’s impossible to really answer this question—do you start w/ all of the teachers who nurtured you along the way, including your parents and sis who taught you to read, your grandparents who gave you room to roam—or your wife who has read every page with a sharper eye than many editors? And don’t forget about the giant oak you touch every morning or the hoarse crow you listen for every afternoon. Or do you count up all of the many books and writers who have shaped you over the years, from Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, and Jim Wayne Miller to Thoreau, Abbey, Dickinson, to my favorite contemporary poets, Thorpe Moeckel and Maurice Manning. And I’m sure I’ve missed many others here. Or really, do you focus inward and realize that you can’t not write? To do so is insanity, and so the inspiration comes from a deep need to every day touch a little of that universal peace that resides in all of us.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Cicero, the talking raven, will bite you if you don’t watch out. Because the verb to raven means to hunger.

Coming up next week, five writers (Frank X Walker, Dana Wildsmith, Neil Sagebiel, Abigail DeWitt, and Jane Sasser) will share their projects. They’ll post their responses next Wednesday and tag some new people.

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