We were hosted by Brittany Lee (Wedgworth Class IX) at Florida Blue Farms. Ms. Lee gave us an overview and history of the blueberry industry in Florida, as well as a tour of her farm.
Ms. Lee gave us the history of how her family started Florida Blue Farms. They were in the real estate business and decided they wanted to turn this tract into agricultural production. After deciding hay farming wasn’t in her future, they settled on blueberries. She immediately began using all her resources to track down and speak to experts at growing blueberries.
The farm is located in a drainage area of a 3,000-acre swamp. This created a challenge for growing blueberries that need a dry, sandy soil. Ms. Lee and her father went to work creating ditches and drainage that would make the land suitable for growing berries. I was most impressed with the determination of her family to create a successful farming operation on a piece of land that most people would not see the potential opportunity. They decided they wanted to farm on the property, and they made it happen.
Growing blueberries over the last decade has come with many challenges. The competition from foreign imports has drove the price of berries down, while labor costs continue to rise. Florida blueberry growers are competing with foreign companies that are paying their labor less in a day than domestic producers are paying per hour. We are now importing more than 30 times more foreign berries than we were 15 years ago. The resiliency of blueberry growers in the state is what makes producers like Ms. Lee special.
Before leaving, we had a discussion with Ms. Lee about the importance of building relationships. She had story after story of how connections made through the years have impacted her career. Every Wedgworth alumni I’ve spoken with recognizes the true value of the program lies in the relationships built with class members and alumni.
The question I kept coming back to after leaving Florida Blue Farms is: “What obstacles in my life are actually opportunities for growth?”
Ms. Lee’s family turned the challenge of building their farm into an opportunity that has propelled her to becoming a successful grower and President of the Florida Blueberry Grower’s Association. We can see obstacles as a disadvantage or a chance to grow – the choice is ours.