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.
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.
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