While strawberries are the first fruit of spring, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries quickly follow as spring gives way to summer. They also have a pretty big fan base, which has helped contribute to the success of Dr. Young’s Pond Berry Farm in Harnett County operated by Betty and Stan Trustman and their two grown sons for 35 years.
The berry season on the Trustman’s farm typically runs June through late July and visitors can find plenty of ripe blueberries, blackberries and raspberries waiting to be picked Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
During the Trustmans’ successful career operating a couple of retail businesses in malls in three states, the family was looking for a change of pace and Stan Trustman was interested in fishing, according to his wife.
In part that’s what attracted them to the 35-acre property that included the pond known as Dr. Young’s Pond. The farm was a well-known local recreational area owned by Dr. Young who was equally well-known because he had delivered most people living around the area.
The property originally had a tobacco allotment with it and after discussions with their accountant, Stan, who grew up in the fruit and vegetable business, came up with the idea for a pick-your-own blackberry farm on part of the land.
“He said he had come up with the perfect crop – blackberries – and people will come pick them and we won’t have to do any work,” Betty Trustman recalled him saying. “He sold me a bill of goods!”
The Trustmans decided to keep the name of the pond and incorporate it into the farm name, but as new people have moved into the area, it has become one of the top questions they are asked about.
The Trustman’s have slowly built their berry farm up to the five acres it is today, using a variety of plants that mature at different times of the season to ensure berries for customers. After starting first with thorny blackberries, they have transitioned over to a thornless variety that makes cutting back those plants easier to manage.
But in choosing new varieties, Betty said taste and the plants’ ability to survive in the local climate are always major factors in selection.
As you walk through the neat blueberry rows where they are testing a few new varieties, the husband and wife can quickly point out the variety and specific characteristics of that particular plant.
Based on taste alone, they have chosen well, including the Krewer variety, which produces a super plump blueberry with a sweet smooth flavor. While Brightwell is the main blueberry variety grown on the farm, they are currently testing nine new varieties in their “test field” for taste and ease of growth.
Betty said she never knew she would have to wear so many hats in her new career, but lately she feels like she needs a meteorology degree to deal with the unpredictable weather patterns and the havoc that can cause. “We are always learning something new,” Betty said.
A mild January and February accelerated the bloom cycle of the plants, but with last frost in North Carolina typically coming around early to mid-April, that is a lot of time to watch, wait and plan for cold weather that would kill off the blooms and the berries they would produce.
“We had never had a ripe berry before June 8 – never,” Betty said. “This year we had ripe berries May 8. This was very stressful year because we had a full field of blossoms in February. But we were able to use overhead irrigation to protect them.”
Survive and thrive they did and now the five acres of berries are ready for the picking. They offer three sizes for picking blueberries or black berries – a gallon, three-quarter gallon and half-gallon containers. Raspberries are sold by the half gallon, quart and pint.
The freshness of pick-your-own berries cannot be matched, Betty said, and that is what keeps customers coming back.
“My husband’s passion is to provide the best fruit you can find. We want people to come out and compare our berries” to others they have tasted. The freshness comes through, she said.
As a small farm, the Trustman’s have worked with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Small Farms Program over the years. The NCDA&CS Small Farms program helps connect small farmers to services and programs that may benefit their operations. Program specialist Jacob Crandall helped the Trustman’s obtain a farm ID number that is required for a farm to access federal grant programs and other farm benefits.
For Betty, connecting with the community and offering a special experience to customers is a big part of the reward in operating the farm.
“Over the years our customers have become our friends and that community is rewarding,” she said. “People don’t have a place to go be outside and be meditative and cleanse the mind. But here, they feel like they are in a place that is well cared for and they to care for it, too, and have that connection with the outdoors.”
The family’s passion for their farm is evident in the care they put into pruning and tending to their crop, selecting new varieties, teaching new visitors how to look for and pick the ripe berries, and the thought that goes into the picking experience visitors have.
Those efforts have not gone unnoticed. During Farm City Week in 2022, the Trustman’s were recognized as the Farm Family of the Year by the Harnett County N.C. Cooperative Extension.
For Stan, fishing appears to have taken a backseat. Asked how his fishing was going, Stan said with a deep laugh, “lousy!”