It's pickin' season - South Lake Press: News

Clermont It's pickin' season

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Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014 6:00 am

Dick Adams, 74, practiced law in Central Florida for more 30 years before deciding to go into a different field — agriculture.

Throughout his retirement, he has been involved in cattle operations in Florida and Uruguay. In 1991, Adams bought “Green Swamp Ranch” in Clermont, property he vowed to use only for nature-friendly purposes.

On that land is a gopher tortoise refuge, a year-round honey bee farm, bumble bee condos and a cattle camp.

About six years ago, a conversation with his brother John Adams, about finding a way for the farm to be self-sustaining, gave rise to another venture — growing blueberries. That was the beginning of Blueberry Hill Farms.

“My brother is always looking for something to do with the farm, but he has never wanted it to be a subdivision,” co-partner John Adams said of what is one of Lake County’s newest U-Pick blueberry operations at 5000 Berry Groves Road.

Blueberry Hill Farms, in its 5th picking season, actually started out as a commercial picking operation — and it still is — but has turned into a U-Pick operation as well because the Adams brothers and partner John Gray hated to see berries going to waste after the commercial pick was over. The U-Pick side of the business has been up and running for only a few weeks.

“To me, what’s been a totally gratifying experience is seeing people, families and especially children, learning and having fun picking and eating blueberries,” John Adams said. “We try to make it fun for the kids and, while here, they learn where their food comes from.”

While John Adams recognizes that Blueberry Hill Farms is just one of many such farms in the county, the partners do things a little differently. Two of the things he said they are most proud of is that only recycled water is used for watering the crop and, as of 14 months ago, they started using organic farming methods.

“Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s hard to work with the water district and other environmental groups like the Department of Agriculture, but it’s been a pleasure for us, actually,” John Adams said.

The farm carries five varieties of blueberries, Farthing and Meadowlark in the organic variety, and Emerald, Jewel and Windsor in the conventional variety. All five varieties, John Adams said, were developed by the University of Florida’s blueberry breeding program.

Adams also said they took on the challenge of planting 13 acres of organic bushes in March 2013, in addition to the 11 acres of conventional bushes, to give people the choice of acquiring herbicide- and pesticide-free blueberries, if that’s what they feel more comfortable eating.

“The group of people who pick organic are even more unique than everyday U-Pickers, because they are in it for the health benefits of it,” Farm Manager Randy Holland said. “Money is not an issue for them because, regardless, they’re going to pick organic.”

All pickers are given a bucket that can hold up to six pounds of blueberries, fitted with a rope that can be tied around the waist to leave both hands free for faster picking. Gray said in his opinion, the best time for picking is earlier or later in the day.

The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Prices are $4 per pound for conventional berries and $8 for organic berries. The farm also sells already picked berries for $5 and $10 per pound for the conventional and organic varieties.

The season usually ends in late May or early June.

Luis Ramirez, a former picker who, for the past three years, has been employed at Blueberry Hill maintaining weeds and spraying, said to him, there is nothing like fresh blueberries right off the bush.

“I think they (blueberries) taste better picked fresh,” he said. “They may be good when you get them at a store, but it takes so long for them to get from one place to another that the flavor changes.”

For information on upcoming events, hours, directions and weather condition reports call 863-944-1401, find Blueberry Hill Farm on Facebook or go to www.blueberryhillfarm.net.

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