Meet Darin Blunier of Bluhaven Farm
Dale Blunier was an Illinois grain and livestock farmer who loved dabbling in new ventures. In the early 1970s, Dale set his sights on raising a half acre of Japanese White Hulless popcorn, and by 1975, it was a popular commodity amongst friends and neighbors. Years later, his son Darin Blunier would continue on the tradition and the popcorn process that has locals loyal to their kernels.
“When I graduated from college, my father had experienced poor health and had to give up the farm, except for 60 acres that my brother kept in the family,” explains Darin. “I kept the popcorn equipment and once I got settled into teaching, started growing popcorn again under the trademark ‘Blunier’s Family Treat’. I started growing in 1997 with 1/8 of an acre and today we grow 6 acres of popcorn in addition to our vegetables.”
Darin, his wife Keri, and their 8 children and daughter in-law oversee farming operations. They have been selling their Bluhaven Farm produce at Peoria Riverfront Farmer’s Market since 2004, and the Blunier’s Family Treat popcorn debuted in 2014. On Wednesday afternoons at Junction City Farmers Market and Saturday mornings at Riverfront, you can find Darin extending his ag teaching knowledge, sharing the story of agriculture and its positive aspects.
Somehow, Darin finds a way to teach, grow over 50 types of fruits and vegetables, and conduct a laborious popcorn process. From seed to customer, the process is pure dedication. The seed is put into the ground in April or May, using a 4 row planter and is monitored throughout the season till harvest time. The Bluniers purchased a 2 row corn picker for the task, but because ears were breaking and they were losing a lot of corn, they returned to hand picking. The harvested corn is then put into mesh vegetable bags that hang in sheds and dry for 1-3 months. Each harvest, the Bluniers hang 2,500- 4,000 mesh bags, equating to 30,000- 40,000 lbs of popcorn. When the popcorn is decidedly dry, the farmers go through each bag and clean every ear, dispensing of bad kernels using pocket knives.
“Yes, we handle every ear by hand, anywhere from 80,000-100,000 ears,” says Darin. “We believe this step in the process is why our popcorn has close to a 100% popping rate, because we clean bad kernels out of each ear.”
The process continues with antique hand crank corn shellers, followed by a powerful fan to blow out the corn chaff and any other debris. The popcorn is placed in food grade and sealed, 5 gallon buckets for storage until it is packed into heat sealing poly bags, or sold directly in buckets.
Darin follows his father’s intensive, labor consuming process because he believes it makes for the best popping and best tasting popcorn around. Currently, the Bluniers raise 4 varieties of “Butterfly” popcorn, including customer favorites, the Ruby Red and the White Hulless.
“I enjoy the local produce business. It has been a great experience for our children to learn how to prioritize work and leisure, and then to learn how to work with customers. It not only helps keep our family close, but provides some extra spending money for the family budget. Our goal is not to get rich from the enterprise, but to provide a healthy and high quality product for those in our community. Raising produce and popcorn the way most of us small farmers do can be very physically demanding, but it is worth it when customers come to the Farmers Market and say to another customer standing at your booth ‘This guy has the most amazing popcorn on the planet. You have to try it.’”