When Brittany Lee and her parents, Dennis and Carrie Lee, launched a commercial blueberry farm in Waldo in 2008, protecting the land was one of their primary goals.
“I grew up in Gainesville near a lot of natural resources – springs, prairies and outdoor recreation opportunities. I enjoyed beaches and lakes as a kid,” Lee recalls. “As an agricultural family, it’s important to us to do all we can to leave our property as good or better than it was when we got it so that future generations can someday enjoy the same things we enjoyed growing up.”
The Lee family’s blueberry operation, Florida Blue Farms, began with 50 acres on a converted timber tract and has more than doubled in size over the last decade. The family now grows 110 acres of large, sweet Southern highbush blueberries that are shipped all over the United States and the world. Their first harvest was in 2011, and in 2018, Florida Blue Farms harvested 800,000 pounds of blueberries. Brittany’s sister, Prentice, and brother, Adam, are also involved in the blueberry production.
“We pick the blueberries daily from the end of March to early May, and from the field they go onto a refrigerated semi,” Lee says. “Once it’s full, it goes to a packing facility in south Georgia, and the berries are shipped to wherever they are going. Japan and Canada are two big importers of Florida blueberries.”
Protecting the Land
Florida Blue Farms has implemented multiple strategies to ensure they care for their land in the most responsible way possible. For starters, when the land was cleared, drainage issues were discovered. Dams were forming and creating unnatural flows, dumping large quantities of water onto new fields. The Lee family worked with a Gainesville engineer to create a state-of-the-art drainage system to better manage water flow throughout the farm. Their innovative design channels water flow into a two-acre tailwater recovery pond. The system cleans and filters the water so the Lees can reuse it for other purposes, conserving their water supply and reducing their overall water usage by 50 percent.
In addition, Florida Blue Farms implements the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Specialty Fruit and Nut Crop Operations Best Management Practices. Their conservation plan includes weather stations for monitoring accurate on-site weather conditions; soil moisture monitoring; drip irrigation and ground cover to reduce irrigation needs; and plant tissue and root growth monitoring and testing to help them make wise decisions about nutrient and herbicide applications. Because of their commitment to protecting natural resources, Florida Blue Farms was a recipient of the 2017 Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award.
The Future of Florida Blue Farms
The Lee family uses their blueberries in many ways, from eating them fresh to putting them in cobblers, pancakes, muffins, and most recently, making blueberry baby food for Brittany’s son, Jeb, who was born in 2017.
“I love working outside and seeing the literal fruits of our labor come to life in a tangible product that not only is going to provide food for our family, but also will provide food for our nation and world,” Lee says. “In addition, we’re a family company, so it’s exciting to come to work every day knowing my children and my brother’s and sister’s children will have something for their future. As our family adds more children to the next generation, I look over the fields and I’m proud of the legacy we’re building for them.”