Brittany Lee charts a winning course with Florida Blue Farms

Mar 01, 18 Brittany Lee charts a winning course with Florida Blue Farms

By Mick Lochridge

Brittany Lee sets a great example for young son Jeb. An award-winning leader in Florida’s blueberry industry, Lee will pass along her drive to work hard and make a difference, whether it’s in a farm field or in a boardroom.

“I hope what Jeb learns from me is that hard work and dedication can be truly rewarding,” she said. “That being able to point to a plentiful harvest is a real and tangible thing. It’s powerful to see the success that comes from a year’s worth of long hours and hard work.”

Career commitment seems to come naturally to Lee, the 35-year-old vice president and farm manager of family-owned Florida Blue Farms, which planted its first trees in 2010 on land just south of Waldo in eastern Alachua County.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s exciting every day, and you never have the same problem twice.”

Because it sits in a former stand of pine trees that left the land acidic, Florida Blue grows its Southern Highbush varieties in soil, not in pine mulch like many blueberry farms.

“Blueberries were the perfect crop for this location, not only because of the ideal soils and organic matter, but also because the University of Florida IFAS breeding program has developed many varieties that are perfectly suited for our climate,” Lee said. The farm grows Farthing, San Joaquin, Meadowlark and Indigocrisp varieties.

Both the state and the blueberry industry in 2017 recognized Lee for her farming expertise and concern for the environment. She was elected president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and won the Florida Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Achievement Award. In addition, the farm received the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She also serves as the Florida delegate for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Those honors add to a resume of Lee’s involvement with community service groups and agriculture organizations. She is a member of the Governmental Relations and Membership committees for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and was a member of the Class IX of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

She also stays active in a number of community groups in the Gainesville area, involvement that she believes is important. “A community is only as strong as the people who live and work there are committed to making it,” she said.florida-blue---brittany-lee

Her family is part of that community. Lee and husband Ryan Brown, 33, who teaches physical education at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy in Gainesville, live in the college town. Son Jeb, which stands for Joseph Edward Brown, just celebrated his first Christmas.

After graduating from the University of Florida in 2005, Lee joined her father’s company, Florida Woodland Group, as a sales representative. She holds real estate licenses in Florida and South Carolina.

It was through that connection that Florida Blue Farms was created. The real estate company owned the acreage for silviculture. Initially, the family hired a management company to run the blueberry farm, but that arrangement eventually lead to the family taking it over.

In the past seven years, the farm has expanded from an initial 50 acres to 110 acres of blueberry trees that produce 750,000 pounds of berries a year. That’s enough to fill two semi-truck loads a day during picking season, which starts in late March.

The farm typically has six to seven full-time employees year-round, but the payroll swells to 150 during picking season.  Naturipe distributes its product.

Producing safe and healthy food for the public holds a top priority for Lee.

“Agriculture is important for several reasons,” she said. “It’s the passion and dedication of the agricultural community that works extremely hard to provide a food source for our community and the worldwide consumer.

“It’s also one of the major economic drivers in the state of Florida and the U.S.”

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