by Joan LeBlanc
Blueberries, raspberries, honey, and more await visitors to Trueman Blueberry Farms on Etter Ridge Road in Aulac, N.B., midway between Sackville, N.B, and Amherst, N.S.
The eighth generation in Trueman agricultural history is continuing the family tradition while broadening the promotion of farm products and agricultural tourism.
Tom and Krista Trueman own and operate Trueman Blueberry Farms, which comprises a commercial beekeeping operation and wildflower honey production, U-pick high-bush blueberries and raspberries, and wild blueberries. In 2016, the addition of a retail outlet offering such homemade treats as ice cream, bread, pies, jams, and pickles has brought more people to their rural location.
“We primarily have a commercial honeybee operation – around 1,000 hives – and we have a few hundred acres of wild blueberries,” said Tom Trueman recently at his retail outlet. “That’s the main focus of the farm. In 2016, we planted three acres of raspberries and we’ve had an acre of high-bush blueberries for about 12 years and added another acre this year. We run these as all U-pick.”
With the three acres of raspberries, he noted the first year they got a few berries and last year harvested about half a crop.
“The way they’re looking right now, we’re hoping to get at least a 70-percent crop and next year a full one,” said Trueman. “Fortunately, the raspberries or the high bush blueberries weren’t harmed by the bad frosts we got in June. We weren’t that lucky with the wild blueberries though.”
Trueman estimates he lost 40-60 percent or more of his wild blueberry crop to frost damage, which is a giant blow to the farm. But he reasons that with the huge crop inventory that has flooded the marketplace during the past couple years, the overall drastic reduction in crop yields this year should at least find the marketplace more open to growers’ produce by 2019.
In 2017, the family branched out a bit more, adding an agri-tourism component to the already growing business. Trueman said everything fits with the promotion of agri-tourism, adding that they are trying to provide a destination for people to spend the afternoon or the whole day – picking berries, getting an ice cream cone, and spending time on the play area made of hay bales and other farm items, including a new wooden maze that is currently under construction.
“We planted a six-acre sunflower maze, put in the farm stand, started making homemade ice cream and bakery items,” said Trueman. “We opened in August of last year and the response has been really good. Last year went well. We met our targets and we had several thousand people go through the maze. We ran our pumpkin U-pick and we scooped a lot of ice cream. We were pretty pleased with it.”
The sunflower maze was very popular, drawing local visitors from across New Brunswick. Trueman said they chose sunflowers to create the maze in part as food for the honeybees, and later opened the fields for U-pick sunflower seeds. This year, they have also planted a corn maze, which will be open from mid-August until late October.
“The first couple weeks, we’ll run the sunflower maze,” said Trueman. “Then we’ll have both open. And when the sunflowers are done, it’ll just be the corn maze. We’re doing bus tours and we expect to be doing school tours again this year as well.”
By mid-summer, which is the peak season for the Truemans, the business will employ about a dozen people, including several in the farming portion and seven or eight in the agri-tourism section.
“It takes quite a crew of people to keep things going,” said Trueman. “It gets pretty busy.”
The homemade ice cream brings in a lot of people, particularly during the hot weather. All of the ice cream is made on-site using at least one product produced on the Trueman farm, such as berries and honey.
The 1,000 hives produce 18-20 tons of pure wildflower honey each year and are tended by a professional beekeeper. Many of the hives are also leased to other crop growers and used to boost crop pollination.
“We had bees all over the province this spring,” said Trueman in late July. “Right now we have bees in Shippagan pollinating cranberries. We don’t get much honey when we’re using them for pollination. It’s really one or the other. We get most of our honey crop when we bring them back home in the summer.”
Always looking ahead, he said the operation would soon have a mobile canteen on-site to provide a food option for those wanting to spend the entire day on the farm.
“We have to be able to provide what people need for the day,” said Trueman. “We also have washrooms with flush toilets. And picnic tables. And the kitchen is fully licenced for food preparation. We’ve got plans to add another building next year and expand our bakery and ice cream production area. But it all depends on how sales go this year. We’re having fun at it and that’s really the name of the game.”
Trueman Blueberry Farms is not just about harvesting the various fruit crops, he noted. “It’s about providing an experience to our customers to come and enjoy the outdoors, bring their children or grandchildren, and have a good day of it,” said Trueman.
Trueman Blueberry Farms’ hours of operation are noon to 8 p.m. daily until October.