Tire and auto care business adds blueberries

OKEECHOBEE — Think of the decor in the waiting room when you last had your vehicle serviced. You probably didn’t see anything that would delight, entertain or inspire you, much less make you suddenly crave dessert or begin dreaming of something delicious you could make with fresh, organic berries. Oh, there might be a display of, say, shiny chrome mufflers or classic car steering wheels, something like that.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Nettie and Robert Williams, owners of Breezy Hill Berries, spend most of their time not standing still as they are here behind the Superior counter.

At Superior Tire and Auto Care of Okeechobee, they’ve got the shiny mufflers, all right. But it might take you your entire wait to even notice them displayed on the wall while getting your tires changed or your exhaust fixed or your brakes repaired.

Because you’ll be daydreaming in shades of blue.

The repair shop, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year in its location at 397 U.S. 98 N., doesn’t offer just friendly auto services and customization jobs.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Nettie Williams makes all the pies they offer herself, and you’ll rarely see the cooler full.

In fact, it may take you a bit to get up to the counter since you’ll likely be distracted, with mouth watering perhaps, by the time you amble up past the loaded shelves and azure-colored freezer and cooler to see Nettie or Robert Williams. (“Now, what did the car need again, honey? Oh, how much are your blueberries? And that jam over there?”)

Legendary berries
The automotive services offered here are well-known in Okeechobee. The shop has been a fixture in town since the couple built it in 1979, but only in the past decade or so did it gain this special attraction.

That’s because in 2010, fully intending to sell the successful tire and repair business upon their retirement, Mr. and Mrs. Williams bought a farm near Warthen in central Georgia, halfway between Macon and Augusta, and took 4 acres of the land to add blueberries to the crops the land produced, planting 3,000-plus berry bushes.

“We’ve been harvesting them ever since then,” Nettie said. “And we’re still here.”

So, nearly a decade later, they’re both turning that age (65) this year but are more successful than ever and have settled into a groove of regularly traveling back and forth between their businesses. So there are no plans to retire anytime soon, she says.

And “our customers say these are the sweetest berries they have ever tasted!” their website crows, saying they “have a well maintained, manicured, naturally grown berry farm using no pesticides.”

Always brimming with berries
It seems like a never-ending supply they have, because at almost any time of year you can find their blueberries at Superior in Okeechobee. But they don’t possess magical plants; they just are constantly harvesting for almost three months and furiously freezing a whole lot of the produce.

Their plantation in Washington County offers U-pick blueberries and blackberries in the summer harvest months, June through early August, and also sells its berries and homemade items at the farm and in local farmers markets (in case you’re up for the over 500-mile drive or have relatives up there).

When interviewed recently, they were getting ready to head off to the farm for a couple of weeks. They had done so in July, too. That’s because while they hire at least 10 harvesters in Georgia every year, their own personal attention is maybe what makes the berries so sweet. (Also, Nettie had run out of her acclaimed blueberry cream cheese pie on Thursday, Aug. 1, when we checked. She had a lady come in and buy three, then came back hours later and bought three more, her last ones in the cooler. Darnit.)

“Robert actually goes back and forth (often) because he likes to do his own thing, plus he does his own fertilizing, he does his own pruning, he takes care of the well, because we’ve got irrigation that we are constantly having to make sure it’s working right,” said Nettie. “Serious blueberry farmer … oh yes, he’s definitely the farm boy now,” she threw in.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
A couple of bags of their frozen blueberries will last quite a while (before they’re eaten, that is!).

In 2012, they planted 400 blackberry plants and, although that sounds like it would produce an impressive bounty of those treats, the locals in Georgia get them all, mostly — including some four-legged poachers. Blackberries are among bears’ favorite foods. Mrs. Williams does snag some for freezing so she can make her preserves and jams and jellies through the year, but you won’t find fresh blackberries from Breezy Hill in Okeechobee.

Of the blueberries, Robert says, their plots yield about 25,000 pounds per year. “We don’t get it all, but that’s about what we get (yieldwise),” he said, chuckling. Asked about that, Nettie explained, “The farm is fenced in, but it’s just not deer-proof.”

Added Mr. Williams: “We’ve done everything to it to keep them out. So, nothing works. They get through it. We could electrify it; we’ve done everything.”

Deer in Georgia can fly
“But you know, when you electrify something, you’ve got to be touching the ground to touch it and get bit … they go to it and they fly through it and, when they’re touched, it doesn’t shock them because they’re not touching the ground. They’re smart, smarter than us!” He laughed.

And then there’s all that time they’ve got to browse “when we’re not around.” He chuckled some more.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Breezy Hill Berries also carries an amazing selection of Nettie’s homemade jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, sauces and special combination concoctions.

“We go way back” in Okeechobee, said Nettie — four decades this year. They have six employees at Superior and usually hire around a dozen harvesters at their spread up north.

“Our plan would be if we were to sell the shop, we would be moving to Georgia just to do the blueberry stuff and the farm there,” she said.

They do sell at a lot of green markets in Georgia and also attend festivals locally here to share their bounty with their Florida neighbors.

Email suggestions for other local business profiles to okeenews@newszap.com.

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