Halfway Acres Farm
U Pick Blueberries
By Abigail Cummings
Photos by John Kidd
Halfway Acres Farm sits on Purgatory Road, but reviewers online call it “a slice of heaven.” It isn’t just the customers though who feel as if the sprawling blueberry farm, located on the border of Goshen and Washingtonville, is heaven sent. Owners Christine and Michael Pagana will tell you that without a doubt that they have been given a gift, and it’s a gift they intend to share with your family for a long time to come.
“Surreal calmness that is magical.”
“Our summer tradition.”
“Will be a regular summer destination.”
“One of the Hudson Valley’s hidden gems.”
These are just some of the real five-star reviews posted online by patrons who have left Halfway Acres dazzled by their experience from start to finish. You might wonder what is so amazing about these berries to engender such warm feelings and enthusiastic praise from visitors. While the blueberries themselves can grow up to the size of a quarter and rival any store-bought berry on the market in terms of quality and taste, take another look at the reviews and you’ll an even sweeter trend:
“We were greeted warmly as we approached…”
“The family working there was friendly and inviting.”
“Beautiful place. Delicious Blueberries. Wonderful family!”
“Thank you for your hospitality.”
“We fell in love with this farm!”
For long-time patrons of the pick-your-own experience and newcomers alike, Mike and Christine let their value for family and good old-fashioned kindness set the tone for each picking day of the season. In reality, it’s always been a family experience. Many of the bushes standing today have called Halfway Acres home since Christine and her brother helped plant them alongside their parents almost 40 years ago. The resulting 800 thriving plants continued to produce fruit even through the years that the farm became neglected after the family moved to Florida. It would seem as if they were waiting for the day that Mike and Christine would inherit the property and see something special in it: untouched, untamed, and exceptionally beautiful.
When Mike married into the family, he had no idea that anything would come of the farm. While Christine’s father, a former city firefighter, was still alive, the two occasionally brainstormed about what could be done with the land and the bushes, but nothing particular came of it.
“I didn’t know anything about farming. I was a teacher. I felt called to leave the school system while Christine went back to work as a physical therapist,” he explains. “We had four girls in five years, and then I home schooled them, so that kept me home. In that time I became a life and marriage coach, but I also loved the blueberries. So I found myself eating them all the time. And the thought that we should try to do something with this came back around about six years ago.”
Mike and Christine put a few last minute ads in the paper that season. The response was immediately positive.
“That was the first time I thought, ‘Woah. We might really have something here,” says Mike.
The next step was to find someone who could help point them in the right direction. Mike went up to Saratoga to visit a blueberry farm that was home to over 40,000 bushes, planted over the course of 40 years. Mike began a conversation with the farmer, who became his mentor. “I was describing to him what we had, our location, that we didn’t have much competition, and the potential we had with the land. He just stood there looking at me as if to say, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got.’ He said, ‘You have a gift here, especially if your ground is fruitful. There’s a demand here. This is a no-brainer.”
The ensuing seasons brought a tremendous amount of hard work, but the fear factor, as usual, has been the biggest challenge. The what-if’s have whispered from the beginning: What if the new bushes die? What if the people don’t come, and what if there’s no crop?
“The questions are there,” Mike reflects. “We’re enjoying the process but it’s exhausting. Do we want to put in a lot of time and energy into something that isn’t going to pay for another 15-20 years? Right now, all the money that’s coming in is going right back into the farm. You’re working a lot and not getting any immediate return. And the question of how much bigger is this supposed to get? We like the feeling of a small family farm, but can we keep it like that? Those that have been with us for five years will get annoyed. That’s the risk.”
The answer to these whispers so far is the same as the Paganas’ answer to all of life’s challenges: faith. “We’re trusting that this is the plan for us, and so far it seems to be. It’s like a worker of mine said. He was busting his butt and said to me, ‘You really have to be called to farm, because why else would anyone want to do this?”
Another thing the Paganas feel called to is doing the whole process organically. Their blueberry bushes, now numbering around 1,200, became officially Certified Organic right before the opening of the 2018 season. Since the beginning, however, no pesticides or chemicals were ever used to keep the rest of nature away from the farm.
“When people ask what we’re doing to keep everything so organic, I just tell them the truth: we pray over the field and cut the grass,” Mike admits. “Why does our field produce all these blueberries, even before we did anything? It’s a gift, and we believe that it’s not just for us. If that’s going on, how can you not open it to the public to experience it? We believe God gave it to us for that very reason. And because of that, it was very important to see if we could do it the way it’s ‘supposed to be.’” The way nature intended it.
The lack of pest repellent is also paramount for a different reason: Mike and Christine’s four girls, Michaela (age 13), Isabella (age 12), Christy Ella (age 10), and Gabriella (age 8), are on the farm every season working the stand, right along with their parents.
The opportunities for fun, hard work, and life lessons abound, but the girls very much get to be kids. “They all doing very well working the stand and interacting with people, which they enjoy. Their math skills are pretty sharp. Families seem to like seeing our family working together.”
The farm’s logo was even homemade: it was designed using a drawing one of the girls did of her sister picking blueberries on the farm. It’s all reminiscent of those first days when Christine was growing up there, and representative of the hopes she and Mike have for the future of Halfway Acres and its place in their family. And also, its place in yours. “We always want to prioritize rest and family time, which can be very difficult during the season, but we’re committed to doing it,” Mike says. “We hope this grows in a way that benefits everybody.”
The season is essentially from the end of June, right up until early August, and the farm is typically open every day from 9 a.m. to dusk during that time. Updates can always be found on facebook.com/halfwayacres, but Mike is always more than willing to let customers know where the best picking is. In the end, you just need to go and check it out for yourself before the season ends. You might just become a believer.
Fun Facts: What don’t we know about blueberries? Mike tells us:
“Blueberries aren’t just blueberries. They are like apples- they come in so many different varieties. We try to find ones that you aren’t typically able to get around here, that kinds that will give you a unique experience. People also say, ‘Wow, these berries are so big!’ Larger blueberries, which are often sweeter, have a shorter shelf life, so grocery stores don’t carry them. They’ll turn mushy or go bad before they even get there. But when you pick your own right off the bush, you’ll often see quarter sized blueberries with great flavor, and you won’t be able to get that in a store.”