JASPER COUNTY, Mo. — Zack Bridgman never really saw himself becoming a farmer during his youth, even though agriculture was part of his family history. In fact, he went to college to become a nurse, which he does part time. But, it was a spare time activity that gave Bridgman what he now calls, “his passion.”
That passion of Bridgman’s is blueberries. It started five years ago when he found himself caught up in trying to grow several of the fruit plants. After much trial and error, along with self education, his small nursery of blueberry plants became what it is today: Two large fields with most plants taller than Bridgman, producing several different varieties of the blue fruit.
“When I was young, I lived north of my grandpa’s farm, and the farm that had all of the blueberry plants that I currently take care of and grow today. Everyday I would pass by those farms, and it was just something about seeing them change and grow year after year, I think that’s what got me interested in agriculture,” said Zack Bridgman, owner of Bridgman’s Blueberry Farm.
When he’s not tending to patients at Freeman Hospital, you’ll likely find Bridgman working to nurture blueberries in what he calls the “north field,” located about mile north of his home on Highway 43 and Ivy Road in Jasper County. His other field of berries grows in the “south field,” which he planted next to his home.
“Between both locations, there are 14 varieties that we grow. Several of those are what we call heirloom varieties, and that means that they’ve been around a long time. They’re the original blueberries that you probably grew up with as a kid. We also have several types of hybrids, and the list goes on and on. We have lots of really cool varieties and it’s about finding the one that works in our soil condition and produces the biggest, sweetest berry,” said Bridgman.
As a nurse, Bridgman believes in passing along helpful information to his patients. The same can be said for Bridgman, the farmer. What he has learned over the years is that consuming locally grown produce is a better, healthier choice versus purchasing fruit and vegetables at a grocery store. If you aren’t sure, you can ask the experts.
“If you’re buying local. You can talk to the farmer directly and they can tell you what they have or have not applied to their produce. They can tell you the name of the chemical, if they use chemicals or pesticides. And they can tell you everything that they’ve done to produce the fruit that they have. So that allows you to do you own research and decide if that’s something you want. Whereas if you buy something off the shelf, you don’t know what was used to take care of it, because there’s a massive list of pesticides and herbicides that are used to keep produce, specifically fruit, fresh in order to keep it from going bad on store shelves,” said Bridgman.
The growing season for blueberries is very limited, lasting about five weeks. During prime picking season, which occurs around the 4th of July, Bridgman is all about opening his farm to the public.
“We allow people to come out and pick their own blueberries. We post our hours on Facebook. They come out and we provide everything they need; the bags, the buckets, everything. They come out, they pick the berries and then we sell them by the pound. We also do pre-picked orders and that’s where my pickers pick the berries and we bag them up and call the people when they’re ready,” said Bridgman.
Bridgman says picking your own fruit is a great family-friendly activity and can be a learning experience for kids.
“I think the really cool thing about when kids come out is they’re making the connection when they’re used to eating blueberries at home, or any fruit and then they come out and they see them all on these bushes and they’re everywhere and they just think, ‘that’s so cool,’ and in their mind they put that connection together,” said Bridgman.
SLIDESHOW: View Photos of Bridgman’s Blueberry Farm
The challenge of growing a fruit that leads to a successful harvest, producing a high yield of nutritious, good tasting berries is what Bridgman says he’s gearing up for this fall.
“Right now we have two acres of blueberries. We are going to plant another 400 blueberries this fall. They will be a Southern High Bush variety. They produce very large, very sweet berries, probably the best berry I’ve ever ate and I’ve made a lot of varieties of berries. They are not native to this area. They are not made to grow in this area. But we’ve had good luck with them. So we’re going to take a gamble and try it out because we have customers that want that specific plant whenever they come out to the field,” said Bridgman.
You can find Bridgman’s Blueberry Farm online, by going to his Facebook page, HERE.
Bridgman’s Blueberry Farm can also be found on Google Maps, HERE.