Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dade City blueberry farm still recovering after 100,000 plants damaged by Irma

Leonard Park, the general manager of Frogmore Fresh Farm, stands next to a row of blueberry plants damaged during Hurricane Irma. Park estimates more than 100,000 plants were damaged. [Photo by Allison Graves]

Leonard Park, the general manager of Frogmore Fresh Farm, stands next to a row of blueberry plants damaged during Hurricane Irma. Park estimates more than 100,000 plants were damaged. [Photo by Allison Graves]

DADE CITY — As the sun rose on the Tuesday after Hurricane Irma, Leonard Park made the familiar drive toward Frogmore Fresh blueberry farm.

With remnant winds still blowing, he hoped for the best. But as he turned the corner and looked across the field, he could see row after row of fallen and leaning plants.

"Plants were leaning, craning or laid down on the ground," said Park, the farm's general manager. "I felt discouraged, but I said, 'This is Mother Nature.' "

Frogmore Fresh Farm, off Saint Joe Road west of Dade City wasn't the only local farm damaged during Irma, according to Whitney Elmore, the Pasco County extension director for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. But nowhere did she see crop damage like that at Frogmore.

Park estimates more than 100,000 plants were damaged, a loss he says could cost the farm anywhere from 15 percent to 20 percent of its harvest next spring, which stretches from mid March to mid May.

But with the help of volunteers, and quick action on the farm's part, a good chunk of the damaged plants on the 150-acre farm have already been stabilized and replanted. And despite Irma's winds, which affecting almost half of the farm's plants, Park estimated that only a couple thousand plants have died so far.

The farm is still trying to figure out how it will recover some the costs from the storm's damage. Park said the rules the farm has to work with are tough, but that one option would be to take a multi-year capitalized expense for the plants that died.

The day after the hurricane, Elmore said, she called farms and UF partners to assess the extent of the damage. Like other farms in the area, Frogmore Fresh sets aside land for UF students to do research trials on blueberry plants. It also offers internships to students. Because of that, one of Elmore's first calls was to Park.

"I heard it in his voice," she said. "That's when I knew the damage was bad. But it took me a second to process that 100,000 plants were damaged."

Elmore decided to mobilize volunteers to help replant and stabilize the blueberry plants. From about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 16, about 250 volunteers from UF, Saint Leo University, 4H and the surrounding area canvassed about 23 acres of the farm, focusing mainly on the younger plants.

Elmore said the group helped stabilize roughly 20,000 plants that day.

"I can tell you the great majority of what we stabilized is alive," she said. "(Park) is still babying the plants that suffered, but we did the right thing by acting quick."

Still, a month after the hurricane, there is still work being done. Park, with the help of others — some days it's 30 people, other days 40 or 50 — is still assessing plants for damage. Some have been uprooted and require replanting. Others are leaning and require a stake for support.

Some of the plants require a close examination to see the problem.

"This plant has broken its roots," Park said while rocking a plant back and forth. "That's not good."

Along with selling blueberries and its partnership with UF, Frogmore has other roots in the community.

The farm works in conjunction with Feeding Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that provides food to people in 10 counties in west-central Florida. The farm and the organization started a volunteer program that launched last April. Feeding Tampa Bay says that for each pail of blueberries picked, it is able to provide 45 meals to people who need them. The farm makes a donation based on the amount of blueberries picked.

This past April was the first time volunteers were able to pick blueberries.

Jayci Peters, the director of marketing and communications for Feeding Tampa Bay, said the partnership is a "win-win."

"The partnership is not only a way to connect with a local farm, but it also helps shape a conversation about why fresh food is important for the people we serve," Peters said.

Given all the work that's already been done to protect the plants, Park expects the farm will be able to participate in the program next year.

"We feel tired from the whole ordeal," he said, "but the light at the end of tunnel is definitely there."

Dade City blueberry farm still recovering after 100,000 plants damaged by Irma 10/12/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 2:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Buccaneers-Dolphins Turning Point, Week 11: Cool, calm Fitzmagic

    Bucs

    On Sunday, the Buccaneers and Dolphins played one of those football games that gets only an obligatory mention at the end of highlight shows. In that spirit, this week's Turning Point will focus mostly on the final three minutes of Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed about 60 percent of his passes Sunday and threw for 275 yards in a 30-20 win over the Dolphins. He threw touchdown passes and no interceptions. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

  2. Largo police active shooter training 'a sign of the times' for participants

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The classroom was full, but the chatter was quiet as the students picked at doughnuts and sipped coffee from paper cups.

    Trainees throw tennis balls and other objects to Largo police Officer Matt Williams, who pretends to be an active shooter, during a training to prepare residents and business owners in the event of an armed intruder. The training, called ALICE - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate - took place at Largo Police Department on Saturday, November 18, 2017. ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times
  3. Vermont man, 51, struck and killed walking across SR 54 in New Port Richey

    News

    Times Staff Writer

    A 51-year-old Vermont man died Sunday night after he was struck by a car on State Road 54 east of Pecan Drive in New Port Richey, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  4. Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

    Accidents

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tampa Electric $18,108 and gave the company two "serious" citations for its response to a gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station in May, the agency announced late Friday.

    Tampa Electric was fined $18,108 following a May gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station.  [LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES]
  5. Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

    Travel

    Unless you are ensconced in first class, sleeping on a plane is as intimate as dozing off in a waiting room on jury duty — everyone on the aircraft knows the decibel level of your snoring and the sad state of your socks.

    Passengers sit  aboard a Swiss International Air Lines' new Bombardier CS 100 passenger jetliner during a flight over the Swiss Alps. To gauge how passengers perceive and handle nightmare flight scenarios, British Airways surveyed 1,500 travelers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. The responses are eye-opening, but do not necessarily represent the gold standard of politesse.  [Michael Buholzer | AFP via Getty Images]