National Geographic : 2005 Jan
HOT COFFEE ROAD, MISSISSIPPI Which brings me back to Rio, whose owner lives in a house built on the site of the old inn. I'd knocked on the door, hoping to find coffee but found instead Pete Robinette. He and his wife moved from Hattiesburg to expand the kennel where Pete trains law enforcement dogs to sniff out drugs and apprehend suspects. It's this latter skill Pete offered to let Rio demonstrate-on me. "You ready?" Pete calls. Rio leans forward. Although I'm wearing a heavily padded sleeve over my right arm-which Pete assures me is the only thing the dog will bite-my mind races. How in the name of Juan Valdez did a story about coffee become an episode of FearFactor? It's over before I know it. I vaguely recall offering the sleeve like a giant bone and Rio chomping it with the force of an alligator. I remove the sleeve and pet the pant ing dog, my arm throbbing. Pete is grinning. "You want to do it again?" I politely decline and take my leave, hoping to find a cof fee shop farther down the road. Instead I find a blueberry farm. I pull over, reasoning that where there are blueberries, there is pie, and where there is pie, there must be coffee. ' Herman Neff, a rawboned 80-year-old with a long white beard, stands in the middle of his 60 acres of blueberry bushes, each laden with hundreds of plump, purple baubles. Over the low buzz of cicadas he explains the blueberry revolution sweepi is part of the state. His face lights up as he tells me how his neighbors he was crazy back in 1981 when he planted his first bushes, a a variety bred to withst e Mississippi heat. "Th 't think I'm crazy now," s, tilting back his broad-brimmed straw hat. Many local farmers have joined him, and currently more than 800 acres in Cov ington County are covered in blueberry bushes. Blueberries, Neff says, are a perfect food, veritable bomb lets of antioxidants, which may help ward off cancer, and Herman Neff, a German Baptist farmer, and his grandsons Nathan and Jason Milyard (above, left to right) have no time for coffee. The boys drove in from Ohio to help Neff har vest his biggest blueberry crop In 23 years. Though Nathan had never driven a picker (left), "he got the hang of it pretty quick, says Neff.Timing iscriti cal: Abig rain at harvest time could cause the berries to swell and split.