Chuck Allison spent a lot of time preparing to be a farmer. He and his family grow blueberries and citrus and raise cattle today, but it took 33 years before their operation, Spring Valley Farms, took shape.
“I worked for Duda for 10 years, which was a great experience and I learned a lot. And I worked for Prudential in its Agri-Business division for 23 years. I retired in April to farm full time,” Allison said.
It was all part of a plan. Allison’s family bought its initial 300 acres in 2004. In its former life, it had been a dairy farm. The Allisons initially thought they would use it for cattle ranching and growing hay, but in 2008 they saw the opportunity to grow blueberries and founded Spring Valley Farms. They also decided to get into citrus and cattle, but blueberries are their main focus. They farm 75 acres of blueberries today in Umatilla, Florida, which is not far from Orlando.
“We first harvested blueberries in 2010. In 2012 we entered into a joint venture with Wish Farms, building a packing facility that handles berries grown by not only myself, but also five other area growers,” Allison said. “We market our fruit through Wish, too.” Wish Farms is a leader in the Florida strawberry and blueberry industry and an FFVA producer member.
Spring Valley Farms grows six varieties of blueberries, each with specific attributes. “Some are early, some are late. Some are sweeter. It’s diversified so that if one variety doesn’t work one year because of weather or maturity dates, other varieties will,” Allison said. The farm ships to customers along the Eastern Seaboard and into Canada. “Wish is in charge of marketing, and they do a great job,” he said.
Allison’s background prepared him well to be a grower. He was involved in Duda’s strategic planning and served as business analyst. “That was a wonderful experience. I was able to learn farming in Florida, Texas and California and understand the business aspects of agriculture. And it gives you a solid foundation in ethics and values, working for a company like Duda.” Learn more about Duda here.
“It’s a dream of a lifetime for me. Farming is a wonderful lifestyle with wonderful people.” -Chuck Allison
He also ran Prudential Agricultural Investments, a division of Prudential Mortgage Capital Company that provides financing for agribusiness companies across the United States.
“Our business is a family effort,” Allison said. His wife, Vesna, runs the harvest crew and is involved in other aspects of the farm. Of the couple’s three children, Cameron, Desiree and Sydney, two are pursuing agriculture degrees at the University of Florida. “Hopefully, we can grow the operation to a scale that would support them coming into the business. Our business would not be successful without the help of other families in the area and our farm manager, Nato Martinez, who has been with us since the beginning. He, along with his wife and two brothers have helped us expand our farms to more than 1,000 acres,” he said.
Plans for the future include expanding citrus acreage. The family recently planted 100 acres of tangerines and navel oranges. More blueberry acreage is in the works as well.
And the Allisons believe in offering a hand to their favorite cause, the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. RCMA provides child care and early education for children of migrant farmworkers and rural, low-income families throughout Florida.
“It’s not easy to find good workers who will stay for a short growing season, which is the case with Florida blueberries,” Allison said. “They’re harvested to meet a market window between mid-March and mid-May, generally. The RCMA facility here really helps by taking care of the children. So, we like to hold an end-of-season U-Pick event, where the proceeds go to RCMA programs. They’re a big success.”
FFVA is a supporter of RCMA through the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.
Allison grew up in the North Florida community of Lake City. His parents grew tobacco, corn and produce in the 1960s and ’70s. Vesna is a native of Chile. Allison received a master’s degree in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida before embarking on his corporate career.
Is Allison happy he decided to get into the growing end of the business? It seems so. “It’s a dream of a lifetime for me. Farming is a wonderful lifestyle with wonderful people,” he said. “I’m glad we decided to do this. Vesna and I both enjoy the challenges and rewards of starting a farm and learning to be good stewards of what we have been blessed with. And the fact that it’s a family affair makes it even better.”