Sawyer coordinates Brewton's blues
By By LYDIA GRIMES – Features writer
Blueberries are the talk of the town this week. Everyone knows about the Blueberry Festival, or if they don't, they soon will. Hundreds, maybe thousands will gather at Jefferson Davis Community College on Saturday to celebrate the berry and have a lot of fun.
There are mony behind the scenes making it possible for Brewton to be recognized as the "Home of the Blueberry." There are the growers, the pickers, the packers and the shippers who make it their business to get the delectable berries to the grocery stores.
One of those people is Guy Sawyer. He is one of the workers, along with Anthony Davidson, who is responsible for the blueberries getting to the market. He deals with the broker who distributes the berries to the market, which this year happens to be Cincinnati, Ohio, and works with Davidson at the packing shed.
Sawyer began his association with blueberries around 1978 when he went to work for John Richard Miller, running his field of berries. At that time, the growers were using U-Haul trucks to carry the berries to the market. Men would drive the trucks to New Orleans or Miami. They couldn't be taken too far as they were not refrigerated.
Those were the days when there were not many growers and before the growers banded together to form the Escambia Blueberry Growers Association. John Richard Miller, Roy Stokes and Mack Lovelace were among the first to grow the berries and distribute them to the market.
When the Miller blueberry field closed, Sawyer went to work with Tom McMillan and stayed there for several years running his field. When things were becoming automated in the packing shed, he left the field and went to work in the shed. Four and five years ago he began his work with the brokers and Davidson took on the job of running the packing shed.
There are nine members of the Grower's Association. They are David Stokes, Mrs. Leamon Dyall, Tom McMillan, Sharon Ashton and Jackson Hines in Brewton, a Huckabaa family in Red Level, Rodney Bolton in Baker, Joe and Leon Robinson in Bay Minette, and Mr. Barlow from Castleberry. These growers have banded together and all the berries are brought to the packing shed in Brewton to be shipped. The berries are packed in a refrigerated room and then put on refrigerated trucks.
Machines do a lot of the work these days and in some larger packing areas, there is even more sophisticated machinery.
The growing and packing season for this area runs from early June until after the fourth of July. Michigan and New Jersey growers enter the scene and they begin to flood the market. They are so much bigger they can sell for less.
One of the biggest problems facing the growers these days is getting pickers. It is a temporary job and it's hard to find people to do the job. They have experimented with migrant workers, but they are not experienced in the art of picking. In addition, most of the migrant workers move on as soon as the tomato crops come in.
There was a time when many of the young people of Brewton and the surrounding area were employed at one of the local blueberry farms. Most of the pickers these days are those who have been there for many years. One lady, Louise Walker, has been picking for the past 26 years.
Sawyer's job is to deal with the broker in North Carolina and the broker deals with the distributor. It's not easy being the middle man, but someone has to do it, he said.
Sawyer was born and grew up in Frisco City. He graduated from Frisco City High School in 1964.
He and a friend went to the coast and got a job working in the shipyard in Mobile for $3.40 an hour. In 1965 he entered Patrick Henry Junior College in Monroeville and then went on to Troy State to get his degree in order to coach. He had played basketball at Patrick Henry and was going to be red-shirted at Troy.
He graduated in 1969 and got his first job at Dauphin Street Junior High School in Enterprise. He stayed there for three years and went to Elba as head basketball coach and assistant football coach. He came to Brewton in 1973 and got a job as head basketball and assistant football coach. He stayed there until he went to Evergreen and then Flomaton as head football coach. He was assistant football coach and went into administration in 1995 as head of the Alternative School Program in Flomaton. He remains in that position today.
Sawyer has been married and has seven children, Amy, Kristen, Robin, Carrie, Sarah, Allie and Ladd. He loves to hunt and fish and spend time with his children when he is not at the school or at the blueberry shed.