Most people associate strawberries with Plant City and blueberries with Hernando County, but for Gene and Ann Altman blackberries are their passion. Together the couple own and operate Bramble Creek Farms in Brooksville. Recently the Florida Farm Bureau recognized them for environmental stewardship. They received the 2018 “Hernando County CARES” designation which is the first CARES awarded in Hernando County.
Gene, a fifth generation Floridian, started his agricultural interest with his father on a two hundred-acre farm in Sumter County where they grew peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and watermelons. After several tough weather and economic years, he decided to go to college to get a degree in Civil Engineering. Gene then started working at Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) developing best management practice projects and flood maps in several counties.
Although Ann did not come from a farm background, she was raised by her Mom who loved fresh fruits and vegetables, canning and making jams. Ann has inherited the love of canning, pickling and making jams and puts these skills to good use at Bramble Creek Farms.
The Altmans planted their first crop of blackberries in 2003 and realized their first harvest the following year. They grow a thornless blackberry, a hybrid strain that was developed at the University of Arkansas, and averages about 4,000 pounds of blackberries a year. The harvest season lasts about six to eight weeks – from May until July, but the blackberries require maintenance almost all year. It’s a challenge because the thornless varieties are not that well adapted to our weather.
Gene stated, “Besides having a full time career as a professional engineer, the most challenging aspect is Mother Nature. We’ve seen years that have been extremely dry to years like 2018 where it rained almost every day for two weeks during our peak harvest. We just never know what we will get from year to year.
However, the rewards far outweigh the challenges and there is always next year.
“To see families and friends come out and make new memories is very rewarding. The folks we’ve seen for years and years. We’ve watched children grow up and we have wonderful conversations on the front porch of our ‘Blackberry Shack’, ” Ann commented.
In addition to the blackberries, the Altmans have planted bananas along their creek. Planting them there gives them a little more freeze protection and also helps keep them watered naturally. Gene is also experimenting with growing artichokes. They have fruit from their fruit trees for their own consumption and in the spring of this year the Altman’s planted additional figs which they will harvest for public consumption in 2019.
Ann remarked, “We currently lease our pasture out for cows. We also have hens and their fresh eggs are the best! Our plan is to build a shelter for and then adopt some donkeys. Donkeys are great for keeping unwelcome critters out of the pasture.”
Along with running a successful farm, the Altmans have raised two daughters that they are very proud of. Jenifer is a captain in the Marines and has served two tours in Iraq. Megan is a Registered Nurse and has given them a grandson, Triston.
In order to be eligible for the 2018 Farm Bureau CARES award, the Altmans had to have been enrolled in Best Management Practices (BMP) that included fencing off wetlands and use of soil moisture sensors. They also had to submit answers to a lengthy questionnaire and compete with many other operations. The judging was based on certain criteria, such as reducing the use of fertilizers and herbicides, reducing ground water withdrawal and improving soil health.
Bramble Creek Farms is a U-Pick operation, so along with the enjoyment of eating the delicious fresh blackberries you get the fun and exercise of picking them. They are open, rain or shine, as advertised during the season, May – July. The schedule and prices are posted on their website at https://bramblecreekfarms.com and on their Facebook page. If you prefer not to pick them yourself and want to enjoy the fruit out of season you can buy them prepackaged or frozen. The Altmans also sell homemade jams; BBQ sauce from Granny Nichols, Gene’s grandmother; as well as raw honey, goat milk soap and other products from local farmers.
Ann and Gene enjoy their life on their blackberry farm but also take their role as part of Hernando County’s and Florida’s agricultural heritage seriously.
“Our Lord put us here as stewards of the land and in doing so we are obligated to preserve the natural resources for our descendants. Wise producers are the original environmentalist protecting natural resources for current and future generations,” Gene concluded.
Bramble Creek Farms is located at 23031 Hayman Road, Brooksville, Florida 34602.
For more information call 352-796-5473 or go to https://bramblecreekfarms.com.