For Farm Credit of Florida member Brittany Lee, blueberries are not just her livelihood, but her passion. As vice-president and general manager of Florida Blue Farms, Inc., she has become a strong advocate for the Florida blueberry industry.
In 2008, Brittany’s parents, Dennis and Caridad Lee, decided to convert a timber tract held by their real estate company in Waldo, Florida into a production blueberry farm, creating Florida Blue Farms, Inc. This decision was not made overnight, but after careful consideration of soil types and climate in north Florida.
“The property we selected was a timber tract held by the real estate arm of our family operations,” Lee said. “After much research we learned that the property was ideally suited for the establishment of blueberries, as the planted pine provided an ideal level of organic matter and soil acidity for our new operation.”
After the timber was harvested, the now clear land allowed Lee and Florida Blue Farms to plan the layout of the farm, which led to one of their biggest challenges to date: water drainage.
“Managing the flow of water through our farm has always been a challenge. Blueberries like soil that drains well, so standing water was something that we knew we had to avoid,” Lee said. “We were proactive in working with the Florida Department of Agriculture, NRCS and the local water management district to come up with a Best Management Plan to keep the water flowing off the farm in a safe and environmentally conscious way.”
Doing Things Right
Doing things the right way has always been the mission of Florida Blue Farms.
“We are dedicated to conducting business with honesty, integrity and competence,” said Lee. “We believe in faith and family and we are committed to conservation through land stewardship and protecting our natural resources.”]
Doing things the right way has also led to national recognition for Lee, who was recently appointed by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, where she represents Florida blueberry farmers and the
blueberry industry as a whole.
As a young farmer, Lee will bring a new perspective to the council.
“This is an exciting time to be in agriculture - the technological advances available through highly specialized imagery from drones and other aerial methods provide very precise and scientific information with respect to plant health, soil moistures, disease pressures and many other impactful areas. I love incorporating these technologies into our overall farm management plan,” Lee said.
Growing a Legacy
Lee is currently working on identifying varieties that may be conducive to machine harvesting. This is still a new and emerging practice in Florida blueberries.
“With the support of Farm Credit we have been able to develop a program to improve best practices and technologies, allowing us to become a cutting edge blueberry farm,” Lee said.
Florida Blue Farms continues to grow, planting 50 acres in March of 2010, an additional 20 acres in 2013 and 20 acres in 2016. The farm is currently working on a 20-acre expansion, which will soon bring them to 110 acres of blueberries.
Lee’s family is growing as well, as she and her husband Ryan Brown recently welcomed a new baby boy, Jeb, into their family this past January.
“More than anything, we started this farm to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren," Brittany said. It has always been a family endeavor, and we have enjoyed being part of the Florida blueberry industry and plan to be for generations to come.”