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Pleasantdale’s John Galaida sees timing returning to normal

HAMMONTON, NJ — The timing of the 2013 New Jersey blueberry season is looking like it might be termed a return to normalcy following last year’s season, which was the earliest in many, many decades, according to John Galaida, general manager of Pleasantdale Farms.

“It seems like the 17th, 18th [of June] probably” for the start of the state’s upcoming season, Galaida told The Produce News Wednesday, May 29, during an interview at his office here in the southern part of New Jersey. “There may be a few people picking a day or two earlier.”

While it was a bit too early to discuss sizing of the berries because “the berries are just starting to size up,” he noted it was not too early to discuss the expected volume for the state. “The Bluecrop looks to be a little heavier than the Dukes,” he said.

PleasantdaleDonio242John Galaida, general manager of Pleasantdale Farms, examining some Bluecrop variety blueberries at the end of May. (Photo by Gordon M. Hochberg)“In general, the crop looks good,” he continued. “From what I’ve seen, it looks like it should be a good crop. It should be a good year for New Jersey blueberries.”

In summary, he added, “To me, this seems to be a more typical blueberry year.”

Galaida has been in the blueberry industry for more than 35 years and has been general manager at Pleasantdale Farms since it was acquired by Frank Donio Inc. in 2002.

Hammonton-based Frank Donio Inc., a grower, shipper and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, sources blueberries from all over the world, including New Jersey.

One of the main contributors to Donio’s Jersey blueberry program is Pleasantdale Farms, and this past winter was a busy time for Pleasantdale.

“This winter we were pretty active,” said Galaida. “We picked up 80 additional acres for the home farm,” primarily Bluecrop with a few Elliotts. That gives Pleasantdale 300 acres here in Hammonton, which it calls the home farm, and about 100 acres a few miles away in Mullica Township, which it calls the Nesco Farm.

To accommodate the expected increase in volume from those additional 80 acres, Pleasantdale installed one additional color sorter and one additional packingline over the winter at its facility here, Galaida said.

On the personnel front, Ron Fisher Jr. was hired in mid-April as assistant farm manager. He has started working with vegetables but will be “phased into the blueberry operation over time,” said Galaida. “He should be a valuable asset to us.”

Looking ahead to the 2013 New Jersey blueberry season, Galaida was optimistic, as he usually is. “It seems like everybody is looking for local blueberries,” he stated. “I’ve had a number of people say to me, ‘There is nothing like a Jersey blueberry.’”

He added, “They’re all looking for fresh New Jersey blueberries. When the Jersey shore opens,” as it did in spectacular fashion over the recent Memorial Day weekend after being decimated by Hurricane Sandy last November, “people know that the Jersey blueberry season is just around the corner.”