Students in Suwannee County Schools were served fresh blueberries from Dukes Farm located in McAlpin recently. Branford FFA Alumni members, Jim and Beth Dukes, provided an agricultural educational experience for FFA members to teach them about the production of blueberries from harvesting to processing. The Dukes own 16.5 acres of blueberries. At the beginning of the season, all berries are harvested by hand and processed into the plastic containers that you find in grocery stores. Later in the season, the farm is open as a u- pick designed to encourage families to teach their children about how food is grown.
The Dukes made an offer to the Branford FFA that we couldn’t pass up. Jim Dukes used a mechanical harvester which can’t be used in regular season because it knocks off all of the berries. The students provided all of the labor with three other alumni members and the advisor. The students began their journey by learning about how the berries are grown and how the machine works. Before entering the field, they were all taught about food safety. The students harvested over 2,000 pounds of berries in two and a half hours.
After harvesting the berries, they took a break for lunch. This allowed the berries to be cooled in the walk-in coolers before they were graded and packed. The students then learned additional safety protocols when entering the processing area. FFA members and alumni members sorted and graded the berries on an assembly line. Each crate was weighed with digital scales. They were returned to the coolers to wait to be transported. The process began at 9:30 a.m. and concluded at 6:30 p.m. The Dukes also provided pizza for the kids who worked.
The Suwannee County School Board purchased 1,400 pounds of the blueberries through a program designed to assist local farmers. The blueberries were delivered to the public schools by the Dukes and the funds were donated to the Branford FFA Chapter. The remaining blueberries were sold to alumni members, teachers and local citizens by FFA members.
We would like to thank Dr. Jimmy Wilkerson and Jim and Beth Dukes for this experience.