Make us your home page

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

  1. Hooper: Jean Chatzy chats about the intersection of wealth, health

    Personal Finance

    Public safety officials can readily identify a city's most dangerous intersections.

    Personal finance adviser Jean Chatzky is one of several high profile speakers on the slate for the Women's Conference of Florida in Tampa next week. [Handout photo]

  2. Video: Buckhorn, Kriseman team up in Tampa Bay pitch to Amazon

    Economic Development

    Across the United States, cities and metro areas are in a frenzied bidding war to convince Amazon their regions are the best fit for its new headquarters, HQ2.

    The Tampa Bay area is no exception. …

    The first  video, rolled out on Oct. 19, 2017, features Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman welcoming Amazon and talking about why Tampa Bay would be a perfect fit for the second Amazon headquarters.
  3. Dirk Koetter sounds Bucs alarm: 'They're the players that we have'


    The other day, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith was asked about the lack of production and pressure from the defensive line, especially off the edge.

    Then it happened.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) takes the field for the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New England Patriots on October 5, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
  4. Police seek public's help as they investigate third death in Seminole Heights


    TAMPA — Police are seeking the public's help in their investigation of three suspicious deaths in southeast Seminole Heights during the past two weeks.

    Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan addresses reporters about the latest suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
  5. Listen: Soldier's widow shares her call with Trump


    Natasha De Alencar had just returned home on April 12 after making T-shirts and pillowcases in her husband's memory when the Army casualty assistance officer told her there was someone on the phone for her. It was President Donald Trump.

    Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar was killed during a firefight with Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan on April 8, 2017. His widow, Natasha De Alencar has shared the condolence call she had with President Donald Trump on April 12. [Image from video via Washington Post]