MANATEE COUNTY — For the last 20 years, Tom O’Brien and his family have been growing fruits and vegetables for East County families and others from their 115-acre farm off State Road 64.
And although that won’t be changing anytime soon, O’Brien’s vision has. On 15 acres at the front of his family’s property, O’Brien and his family soon plan to open a farm stand and educational center and u-pick farming operation, where East County families and other guests can learn about agriculture and come to buy or harvest fresh strawberries, lettuce and other produce for themselves.
Called O’Brien Family Farms, the facility is slated to open by Thanksgiving, but O’Brien is hoping to open for business the first week of November.
“There are people out there who, when you ask where their fresh fruit and vegetables come from, their answer will be Publix,” O’Brien said. “We want people to know where their (produce) comes from.”
The farm stand and educational center will include a honeybee observation area, where children can learn about honeybees and their importance to the farming industry. There also may be a section on canning, or other farming-related activities.
The farm stand also will sell fresh strawberry shortcakes, homemade strawberry ice cream and smoothies, among other items.
“We’re trying to base it all off a farming theme,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he’s particularly excited about the educational aspect of the facility and already has lined up a 4-H group to come to the farm in November. He hopes to bring more school and other groups out to learn about farming and enjoy harvesting produce, as well.
“Kids picking their own strawberries — it’s great to see,” he said. “You’re promoting a lot healthier products. The more you education young people about eating (healthier, the better).”
There’s still much to be done in preparation for the opening. Contractors still are finishing up the red farmhouse-style building that will serve as the farm stand and educational center. Raised beds and Hydro-stacker hydroponic units for fruits and vegetables are already in place, but workers will begin planting strawberries and other crops this week.
Four 16-by-48-foot greenhouse structures still need to be built, and when completed, they will provide a more controlled environment for the crops the farm will sell at its produce stand.
O’Brien said he hopes the new facility will become a destination for local families and visitors to the area.
“I’d just like to see parents and their kids come out and enjoy themselves and realize how important farming is, not only to the country but to their community,” he said.
The O’Brien family has owned and operated C&D Fruit & Vegetable, for about 35 years, with 115 acres in production at 16505 S.R. 64 E. for the last 20 years. O’Brien Family Farms will be on a parcel at the front of C&D’s operations, but the entities are separate from one another, O’Brien said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
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