Florida Growers Mix Business and Pleasure with AgriTourism on the Blueberry Farm

by MARY TOOTHMAN

The cold weather slightly delayed the Red, White & Blues Farm’s blueberry season opening of its agritourism operation, but the Central Florida area farm is ready to make visitors happy— in an old-fashioned, down-home way.

Justin Littlejohn, a self-described “helping hand” at the Williston farm, says the operation offers tons of fun, good food, nostalgia, fresh air and, well, blueberries. “We get everyone here,” he says. “From babies to older people, everyone seems to enjoy it.”

Farmers who get into the agritourism aspect of growing blueberries can be rewarded by income and very satisfied customers.  “It gives people a respect for farming, and the food they eat, to come out and see the operation first-hand,” Littlejohn says.  “It gets people outside, enjoying the scenery.  Visitors get to see the amount of love and care that is put into the crops.”

Red, White & Blues goes beyond offering “U-Pick,” although of course, that’s the main attraction.  The operation has a country store, and even a clothing line with T-Shirts and drinking can covers.

There’s a restaurant with a full kitchen, where visitors can relax at one of the barn-style tables and savor such treats as blueberry muffins— and even blueberry chicken salad.  “It’s really, really good,” Littlejohn enthuses.

It’s a nice place for a family to spend a whole day, and there is certainly enough to entertain.  There is a swing set and playhouse for the children, as well as other play attractions. Red, White & Blues even has a rubber duck racing system setup— created with split PVC piping and a water source that pushes those duckies down the “stream.”

Pretty creative, eh?  Where did they get that idea?  “From YouTube,” says Littlejohn, who is a recent college graduate.  He says they have found a world of information by searching “agritourism” on YouTube.  They also use Facebook [facebook.com/RedWhiteAndBlueFarms] extensively, as well as other forms of social media to market their agritourism operation.  Videos posted by Red, White & Blues have drawn multitudes of viewers.

Littlejohn cheerfully concedes that the only minor issue they have on occasion is visitors who may sit a bit too long and consume a few too many berries while picking.

They have eight varieties planted in the field: Windsor, Emerald, Primadonna, Sweetcrisp, Springhigh, Farthing, Jewel, and Meadowlark.  Visitors are reminded that all the berries freeze quite well, which can pick up the picking pace.

Red, White & Blues has appreciated a whole new aspect of farming since opening its doors to the public during the season.  “It really just gives you a new sort of business outlook to your whole blueberry farming operation,” he says.  “It’s an entirely new form of gaining revenue.”  And it’s fun.

“People come out here, and they see the old-fashioned farm look.  We have old seed signs, old wagon wheels, antique farming items— porch rocking chairs,” he says.  “It takes you back, and people really seem to enjoy it.”

At Lakeland’s Kirkland Farms, the social aspect of having customers show up to pick berries is great.  Brenda Kirkland Gordon says she has great memories of picking berries with her family as a child. “We love it when the little kids come out,” she says.  “We tell them ‘pick one, taste one. It’s okay to have a taste test.’ And they get a kick out of that.”

Gordon, who operates the farm along with her husband, Darrel, her brother, Nelson Kirkland, and his wife, Dot Kirkland, says her parents left them the land, located in the Medulla area.  And her mother had always wished to grow blueberries there.

“My parents were big church people, and on U-Pick days a lot of their church friends come out, and we get to visit and reminisce,” she says.  “It is a wonderful experience for families.”

The farm has a big sign that says “open” on one side and “closed” on the other, and they just flip it to let people know when they can come out and pick.  They also use small, staked signs similar to those used for yard sales. “And we use Facebook, [facebook.com/floridablueberries] and we send out emails too.  People can sign up for the emails on our website,” she adds. [kirklandfarms.net]

Gordon says while commercial blueberry farming is their primary focus, adding the U-Pick aspect has been a great addition.  “We offer it on days the commercial pickers aren’t here,” she says.  “We don’t earn the same amount of money as commercial picking, but it is enough to augment our revenue.”

Pickers fill up buckets that hold about five pounds— closer to six if they heap them on— and pay less than they would at a grocery.  Kirkland Farms has a neat trick on how to make sure customers who pick their own are getting a good deal.  “We just go down to the local grocery store and see what they’re selling them for. Then we reduce that amount by 33 percent.”

Visitors love to get the bargain, not to mention the fun of getting outdoors with friends and family.  “People really seem to enjoy it,” she says. “And we do, too.”