Polk County First Blueberry Farm Tour

Art & Gator publisher George Byfield and twelve other guests, mostly members of the local news media in Polk County and Hillsborough County were invited by Mary Beth Henry, the extension agent for University of Florida /IFAS Polk County Extension serving small farmers, to experience Polk County’s first blueberry farm tour on Friday April 11, 2014.

The tour started at Shady Oak Farm in Lakeland, were we met manager Retta Baucom, who passionately explained the process of growing quality berries for wholesale and locals who love to pick their own berries.

Mary Beth Henry


Farmer Signal Horn

One common sound you can always expect to hear on a small blueberry farm is the signal horn, with blasts loud enough to hear a mile away. This horn comes in handy to scare away Cedar Waxwing birds  which is  a serious problem for many growers as they cause damage to mainly sweet cherries and cultivated blueberries. Unchecked, birds can completely destroy an entire crop.

Waxwing Bird

Our experience at Shady Oak Farm ended with everyone picking their own bucket of blueberries. Unique and fun experience!


Next Stop True Blue Winery



Husband and wife owners Fatima and Howard Gill of True Blue Winery in Davenport greeted our second farm visit with warm smiles. Small farmers can’t depend only on berry production to keep business profitable, explained Howard. So small farmers like Shady Oak Farm and True Blue Winery are combining agritourism, entertainment and hosting special events to bring in additional income.

Starting with blueberries in 2008, the Gill’s have built their Davenport blueberry farm piece by piece, harvesting their sweet berries by hand. They began using excess berries to make wine to share with friends and family, and saw potential. True Blue Winery and Bistro opened in October 2012.

Polk County first organized Blueberry Farm tour marked a special occasion for True Blue Winery, as it was their first time hosting a tour group and so we were given an extra special treat, delicious lunch prepared by Fatima.Yum.

This was such a fun, delicious and educational tour as we also learned about some of the  common challenges for these farmers: hiring and retaining reliable pickers, cost of  directional signage and investment required for branding and marketing.


Jessica Roberts, online marketing specialist at Visit Central Florida, getting instruction on how to U-Catch at W.G. Roe packinghouse in Eloise, FL.

Take a trip:

You can plan and experience your own U-Pick tour with family or friends to any of these farms, by calling: Shady Oak Farm at 863-858-6661 and True Blue Winery and 863-419-4400

Share your thoughts on “Florida Tries to Blend Its Two Largest Industries, Tourism and Farming” by Kevin Bouffard, The Ledger, and Lakeland, Florida. Story found on Skift.com

Exclusive Interview with Dale McClellan

Art & Gator online magazine visited Dale McClellan for exclusive interview in October, 2012 at his farm in Thonotosassa, Florida to get an insider’s view on his new approach to traditional farming. Dale McClellan helped to start a milk-marketing cooperative and developed his own milk and fruit juice processing plant. He is known for the fat-free, sugar-reduced chocolate milk he delivers to Florida schools.

As a result of his dairy farming and milk marketing success, McClellan has been selected as the Florida winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. McClellan now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.

At his dairy in Lecanto, Fla., he milks some 700 cows three times daily with a rolling herd average of about 23,000 pounds of milk per year. His farm consists of 1,272 acres, including 952 acres of rented land and 320 acres of owned land.

Cow comfort is a priority. McClellan’s barns currently feature waterbeds along with fans and misters for the cows. He is exploring the use of sand bedding. Research shows that cows on sand produce clean milk and suffer from fewer leg and hoof problems.

He recycles dairy waste by separating solids for application on non-irrigated land and by applying the liquid through his irrigation.

McClellan grows much of his own feed, including Tifton 44 bermudagrass hay on 80 acres yielding 3.5 to 5 bales per acre. The long growing season allows him to triple-crop 250 irrigated acres. This system includes oats yielding 4.5 tons of forage per acre, followed by two crops of corn that produce a total of 40 tons of silage per acre.

When possible, he grows feed products that are the most expensive to buy and buys feeds that are inexpensive to purchase.

The milk marketing cooperative he helped to establish, Premier Milk, is based in Ocala, Fla. McClellan says the cooperative pays a premium to its 13 farm members for superior quality milk. The co-op works to obtain higher milk prices, and it insures that his milk will have a home. The cooperative also provides milk supplies that he buys for processing and packaging at his M & B Products Tampa facility.

“I never really had to start farming,” says McClellan. “I was born into it. I milked my way through high school.” He was raised on Sunny Brook Dairy, a Tampa farm and milk processing facility owned by his grandparents. In fact, both his mother and his father came from dairy farming families.

The McClellans have three adult sons and all are involved in the family businesses. Leon manages the dairy farm. Bryan is the distribution manager for the processing plant and insures that delivery trucks reach Florida schools in a timely manner. Daniel is the shipping manager at the processing plant and oversees shipments to out-of-state customers. Daniel’s wife Andrea manages the plant’s office and is Dale’s executive assistant.

Community Outreach

McClellan has been active in a number of organizations. Some of these include Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce, Florida School Nutrition Association and the Temple Terrace Masonic Lodge. He has advised members of Congress on agricultural issues. He is a founding member of the 301 House, a rehabilitation facility for alcoholics. He is also a supporter of youth sports teams, Ag in the Classroom, 4-H and FFA.


What does the Travel & Tourism Industry have in common with Agriculture Industry—people. McClellan believes that farmers need to be at the table with hoteliers, tour operators, developers, chambers & economic developers, arts & culture development directors and other key stakeholder when trying to attract more travelers to visit and relocate to their destination.

About Citrus County, Florida

Find Florida’s soul in our warm Gulf waters, spring-fed rivers, gentle manatees, fantastic fishing and bountiful lakes. Our affordable hotels and motels include riverside inns and full-service resorts, and charming bed and breakfasts and campgrounds are ready to welcome you. Enjoy unspoiled natural surroundings, championship golf, unique shops, abundant history and endless aquatic adventure in The Water Lover’s Florida.

Photos provided by Citrus County Visitors & Convention Bureau


About Farm Credit of Central Florida

Farm Credit of Central Florida is part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, a financial cooperative owned by its member-borrowers since 1917. We have one primary function-to provide agricultural loans. For more information, visit: www.farmcreditcfl.com

Video Edited by: Christopher Arnold @ www.carnolddesigns.com