“Blueberries are a very good plant,” said Hector Buitrago, a retired federal government employee from Colombia. “If you treat them good, they treat you good.”
Buitrago now lives part-time in Greensboro, Georgia, as a farmer. Farming has been in his family’s roots for years. Buitrago grew up working on his grandparents’ coffee farm in Colombia, but never expected to end up carrying on the profession.
Buitrago moved to Atlanta when his wife was transferred to a new job within the Coca-Cola company. When a friend called him about an affordable plot of land in Greensboro, Buitrago could not pass it up. He saw the land as an investment, despite not living in the same city or having an initial plan for its purpose.
Twenty-three years passed before anything became of the Greensboro property. A few years before Buitrago’s retirement from the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a researcher and friend from the University of Georgia reached out to him with a suggestion on what to do with the land. He told him about different varieties of blueberries that grew well in central Georgia.
The seed was planted. Buitrago decided to test grow some blueberries in his Atlanta-area home. Before he made the leap to a full-scale farming operation on his 21 acres in Greensboro. After successfully growing the plants in Atlanta, he began planning for expansion.
On Jan. 1, 2015, just one day after retiring, Buitrago went to his property to start the farm from the ground up. He designed the barn and living quarters, planted the first set of crops and installed the irrigation system himself.
Fast forward three years to 2018 and HEMI Blueberry farm is in full swing. Buitrago splits his time between farming in Greensboro and family life in Atlanta where his wife still works and resides. She spends time in Greensboro on the weekends. But she hopes to retire in 2019 so the pair can relocate full-time to the farm.
Despite being retired, Buitrago stays considerably busy year round with his blueberries. He attributes his physical health to farming.
“The reward is health,” Buitrago said. “And thinking that I am giving something to the people with natural blueberries and good products.”
Chamberlain Smith is a senior majoring in journalism in Grady College Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.