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A family field of dreams grows in Riverview

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image Three generations of the Hoffman family, with Becky and Jerry in the center, are involved in Fern Hill Family Farms, located just off I-75 and Gibsonton Drive. Photo Mitch Traphagen

At the three-and-a-half acre hydroponic farm, perhaps the best thing next to the large, sweet strawberries is the fact that they are easy for their customers to pick.

By Mitch Traphagen

RIVERVIEW – For one family in Riverview, a field of dreams is growing before their eyes. The work is ongoing and has been at times grueling, but nature is providing a bounty for the work they have already sown. They have produced something where nothing was before. They are grateful, and their gratitude spilled out to dozens of people who took home perfect, beautiful and free strawberries last weekend.

Located just off I-75 and Gibsonton Drive, Jerry and Becky Hoffman and family are bringing Fern Hill Family Farms to life. With a large barn still under construction, the family is about a month away from officially opening, but the warm weather this month changed those plans. Suddenly and well ahead of schedule, strawberries began appearing in all perfection from the thousands of stacked pots on the hydroponic farm. Rather than allowing the beautiful berries to go to waste, the family offered a quart of pick-your-own strawberries at no charge for those who came to visit this past weekend.

At the three-and-a-half acre hydroponic farm, perhaps the best thing next to the large, sweet strawberries is the fact that they are easy for their customers to pick. Becky Hoffman handed out bags and small scissors and the stacked hydroponic plants meant that no bending over, no kneeling was required to harvest them. On the farm, nothing is wasted. At the bottom of the strawberry stacks are planters with vegetables growing thanks to the small excess water than dribbles down from each stack.

Although fresh strawberries will be around until May, all good things must come to at least a temporary end. Hoffman sees a rationale for that.

“In all truth, God made these plants special,” he said. “If we had strawberries all year around, we might not like strawberries. We’ll have other things out growing. In the fall, we’ll have vegetables. We can send people email notices of what we’re picking that week.”

It is a family-run operation in its entirety — they are even building the large barn on the premises.

“We’ll have a full deli market and a full vegetable market,” Hoffman said, referring to the nearly completed barn. “We call this an agri-tourist destination.”

Yes, that means strawberry shortcake and strawberry milkshakes will be available.

A family-friendly operation, they have plans for landscaping to build in areas for children and families to enjoy not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but also the outdoors and beautiful surroundings. They also hope to attract businesses and other organizations that would be interested in using their facilities for office outings, retreats and meetings.

Located just off I-75 and Gibsonton Drive, they have an ideal location for all of their plans.

But the bottom line is the fresh produce that will come from the family’s hard work. The younger Hoffmans are fourth generation strawberry farmers, but this is the first time they’ve grown the berries above ground.

“We have about three and a half acres, which with hydroponics equals about four to five acres,” Hoffman said. “There is a big thing about eating fresh, without preservatives and chemicals. We use very, very minimal sprays. We think it is better than organic.”

For the Hoffman family, from Jerry and Becky down to their young grandchildren, what has emerged from this place is their field of dreams. Their faith is strong, in God, in their own abilities, and in their hopes that people will come to enjoy the farm and the bounty that will emerge from their work: strawberries, blueberries, and vegetables. All are grown with love and caring in a place where dreams come true.

The warm winter also means fresh strawberries are available several miles east down the road at Goodson Farms. The longtime South County establishment opened their stand last month, and is now serving their famous fresh strawberry shortcake and pressed Cuban sandwiches. Goodson Farms is located along County Road 672 at 14603 McGrady Road in Wimauma.

For information about Fern Hill Family Farms, visit their website at www.fernhillfamilyfarms.com. The farm is located just east of I-75 exit 250 along Fern Hill Drive.

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