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5-25-18

Rooney’s Front Porch Farm gears up for blueberry season

Buckets wait along the fence ready to assist blueberry pickers. -Photo: Submitted



Right: Fresh picked blueberries from last year’s crop at Rooney’s Front Porch Farm.  -Photo: Submitted



By Tami Stevenson


Fresh blueberries are coming in season! The much anticipated, healthy treat everyone enjoys in their pancakes, on their ice cream, in pies and cobblers, jams and jellies, in smoothies or just plain fresh off the vine. The list of blueberry recipes grows each year. But to Scott and Billie Rooney, blueberries have become a way of life. The 2018 crop is ripening now at Rooney’s Front Porch Farm and will be ready,



“...When the berries tell us they are ripe, juicy and sweet!” According to Billie, hoping they will be ready by this weekend for the Wellborn Blueberry Festival where she and husband, Scott, along with other local farms, set up a booth each year to sell blueberries and promote their farm.



Growing blueberries in the North Florida area is ideal, according to experts, the soil is just what the bushes like. Although it is a long term commitment and takes approximately two to three years to produce its first solid crop.




Scott and Billie Rooney, owners of Rooney’s Front Porch Farm are now in their sixth year offering U-Pick berries to their customers. -Photo: Submitted

The Rooneys began by planting 3,000 Rabbiteye blueberry bushes over six acres in January of 2011. The first year after planting, they had to pick all the blossoms, so had no berries at all. The next year, according to Billie, the crop produced berries but not enough for the public so they gave them away to friends and neighbors. In 2013, however, their hard work and commitment finally paid
off when they opened the farm to the public for U-Pick blueberries for the first time.

They also planted about 800 vines of thornless blackberries that ripen approximately the same time as the blueberries and offer as U-Pick to blackberry lovers everywhere.



The Rooneys began by planting 3,000 Rabbiteye blueberry bushes over six acres in January of 2011. The first year after planting, they had to pick all the blossoms, so had no berries at all. The next year, according to Billie, the crop produced berries but not enough for the public so they gave them away to friends and neighbors. In 2013, however, their hard work and commitment finally paid off when they opened the farm to the public for U-Pick blueberries for the first time. They also planted about 800 vines of thornless blackberries that ripen approximately the same time as the blueberries and offer as U-Pick to blackberry lovers everywhere.



In the beginning, Scott worked closely with Robert (Bob) Hochmuth, Center Director for the UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center and his team. Billie said they have been instrumental in helping them over a period of many years. Scott took irrigation and other related classes and the staff from the extension office even came out and helped at the farm when problems arose. “We are very thankful for Bob and his staff,” Billie stated.



Although they are not organic, their irrigation and fertilization are all done at ground level under plastic. The berries themselves are not sprayed as they continue to work in implementing the most up-to-date “best management” practices for water conservation and soil quality. They also plant “trap crops” such as sunflowers to attract unwanted pests away from the blueberries and blackberries, thereby reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce a healthy crop.


Scott and Billie Rooney have 3,000 blueberry bushes for U-Pick customers. They also planted approximately 800 thornless blackberry vines. Everyone waits in aticipation as the berries are almost ripe. -Photo: Submitted



Scott also took classes at Florida A&M and became a Certified Master Sheep & Goat Producer. Billie explained that in the beginning he was still in the Navy Reserves. They wanted to raise some kind of livestock and chose sheep because they were small enough for her to handle alone, in case Scott was called out to serve. She said at the time there was a demand for mutton, and, she said, there still is today.


They chose Katahdin sheep. Well suited to the hotter climate, the Katahdin is a breed of domestic sheep that has hair instead of wool and does not need to be sheered. They were developed in the United States in Maine and named after Mount Katahdin - the highest peak in Maine.



Since then, the Rooney’s have earned a reputation of impeccable quality providing an enjoyable experience to visitors of all ages that come to pick blueberries or blackberries on their well groomed farm. Children (and adults) love to come and experience a working hand pump that brings fresh water from the ground simply by moving the lever up and down, or feed raw peanuts to their adorable, hairy Katahdin sheep. They have a five star rating on their Facebook page along with many comments from satisfied customers who enjoyed visiting their farm and the lush berries they produce. According to Billie, they hope to be able to offer a blueberry cookbook later this year.



Rooney’s Front Porch Farm is located approximately five miles north of Wellborn. Their phone number is 386-590-9053. For more information visit their website: www.rooneyfarm.com.


Stylin’ Katahdin sheep. -Photo: Submitted

Aubrey Lizotte enjoys feeding raw peanuts to the sheep. -Photo Submitted

Julia Terrizzi, Reuben Smith, Levi Terrizzi, Amy Smith, and Bella Schautz splash and play in the water from the old-fashioned hand pump at Rooney’s. -Photo: Submitted


This is the back of the front porch where customers come to tally their berries. -Photo: Submitted