How Did the Farm’s Switch from Citrus to Berries Pan Out?
by MARY TOOTHMAN
The Tom West family farm that once grew citrus in Ocoee switched to blueberries in 2010, after severe freezes. We chatted with Stacy Williams, granddaughter of the late Tom Williams, to see how things have gone since.
Some background: After World War II, Tom West returned to Ocoee, Florida, and began growing and harvesting citrus. In 1954, he incorporated to Tom West, Inc.
Tom was joined by his son, Milton West in the citrus farming business in 1964. They grew oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits. After Tom’s death in 2011, Milton and Scott decided to double their blueberry fields from five to 10 acres.
Central Florida Ag News: How much has the farm grown?
Stacy Williams: We have 30 Acres, and started with only five.
CFAN: How has blueberry farming played out? Any regrets?
SW: We are doing well but as a whole the industry is very difficult. In Florida the market each year can get smaller and smaller so our window to sell fruit gets shorter when other countries come into our window.
CFAN: What have been the positives and what have been the challenges of blueberry farming?
SW: We have a U-pick farm, and the most rewarding and positive are the customers and families. They are so grateful to be able to come into our farm. Also, some of our commercial accounts have become like family to us. The negative is that you are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Sometimes you lose half a crop and no reason as to why. Farming in general is hard and we are very grateful for the crops we get.
CFAN: What is the output, in term of farm productivity?
SW: We measure the picking in pounds and you always hope to get about 10,000 an acre — but that doesn’t always happen. We haven’t balanced out our year to know where we are at, but we did lose a third of 10 acres this year on production.
CFAN: Please describe the farm — do you have places for people to visit, U-Pick, etcetera? Is the farm one with a family type atmosphere — repeat customers, and traditions?
SW: Yes, we have a 10-acre farm where we have U-Pick, and we have some customers that have been with us from the beginning. We do tractor rides, have a bounce house, swings, and even a boat ride. Also a store that sells jams and a lot of other blueberry products.
CFAN: On a personal level, what is the experience of operating the blueberry farm like for you? Satisfying? Sounds like you all grew up in the business. Your grandfather would be proud.
SW: I know my grandfather is looking down on us and is smiling. Scott (his grandson) said that since we moved into the blueberry industry the most satisfying part is that we get to share it together as a family, and spend it with other families. Knowing that what we work so hard at is enjoyed by many other families, not just ours. Our passion is striving on having great quality fruit and a fun atmosphere for families.