An hour north of Tampa, in Hernando County (which is known as Florida's Adventure Coast), you’ll find a pastoral area of rolling green hills, trees, pastures and farmland. Farm crops of all varieties grow in the region, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, corn, melons, and grapes.
Located just south of Brooksville, this stunning Florida countryside, intertwined with moss-draped oak canopy roads, creates a perfect backdrop for a visit to two area farms that offer unique experiences: Sweetfields Farm and UPicktopia.
And these aren’t your average Florida farms.
Sweetfields Farm, located in Masaryktown, on Hernando County’s southern border, celebrates down-home country fun with a twist. Owners Lisa and Ted Kessel have transformed an old hay field into an organic farm. In addition to growing vegetable crops, they host a special springtime event among acres of their signature spring crop: sunflowers. While the tall, bright yellow sunflowers sway in the gentle breeze visitors wind through a maze of the plants that grow 12 to 15 feet in the air reaching to the blue sky above. It’s an "a-maze-ing" day of fun and natural beauty. What mother wouldn’t love this?
The maze is just part of a farm experience the Kessel family has created under the sprawling oak trees on the farm. Guests get a peek into rural farm life while learning how healthy food is grown. Old-fashioned hayrides, pig races, a homemade play area and a tree house for climbing, a children’s craft area for making Mother’s Day gifts, farm animals, a u-pick produce area, and a local storyteller who tells Florida tales are all part of the experience.
And on your way home, Mom and the family can take some tasty memories by stopping by the farm’s fully stocked produce barn filled with squash, zucchini, kale, peppers, beans and more.
Meanwhile, less than two miles from Sweetfields Farm is UPicktopia, owned by Dan Ebbecke, a farmer who has been growing blueberries for 20 years. Beginning with a few plants, his u-pick operation now spans 11 acres of blueberries. Dan and many Florida farmers have found a niche in bringing early-season local blueberries to market before farmers in Maine, Michigan and Oregon even begin cultivating their crops. And with a growing national consciousness about healthy eating, blueberry production in Florida has climbed significantly.
Dan has been an advocate for Florida blueberry farming, growing over a dozen varieties. “Blueberries require constant care, lots of water, and special soil, and then there’s Mother Nature--birds, squirrels and raccoons also love the berries,” says Dan. “But I enjoy it when families come here to pick and the kids connect with how food is grown while filling a bucket with farm fresh, sweet blueberries.”
To begin picking blueberries, guests receive a bucket and instructions on where to pick. Visitors walk up and down rows of blueberry plants in fields bathed in Florida sunshine, surrounded by tall pine and oak trees. Blueberry picking is easy, as there is very little bending over while choosing your fruit from waist-high plants.
And for sure, you’ll be tempted--and encouraged--to sample the sweet morsels while you pick.
Once your bucket is filled, you take it inside to be weighed. Other farm produce is also available for purchase, including green beans, squash, onions, kale, tomatoes, corn, carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers and more. And most of these are available for u-pick, too.
Now is the perfect time to grab your bucket and pick those berries. But don’t wait too long, because the season is here and gone in no time. Generally the “picking window” lasts from now through the end of May.
And finally, a few tips for your farm day: Bring a hat, dress comfortably and wear sunscreen, and be sure to pack your cooler to place the produce on ice for the trip home.
This will be a Mother’s Day Mom and the family will never forget.
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