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and Pa Durden
giving up on finding land in Cobb County that our budget could afford, Debbie and I bought 40 acres of land in Cherokee
County that had great potential. The cost was $50,000,
which was all the money in the world to us.
dream of having a pick-your-own fruit operation was truly
becoming a reality. Having only driven a tractor once in my
life, we now own a Ford 8N which was built the same year Debbie and I
were born. We moved in to an almost-finished log home, and
planted 400 blueberry plants instead of landscaping around the
house. To appreciate how far out we were, Debbie was driving
an older car to work at Scottish Rite Hospital at Ga 400 and
I-285. On the days she was unsure that the car would
make it, she did not drive Ga. 400 because so few people used
it that she may be unseen for hours.
planted 5 acres (3,000 blueberry plants) and irrigated out
of a pit with a pump that ran off the Ford tractor. Debbie
can tell stories and volumes about moving pipe, starting
tractors pipes blowing apart etc. etc. etc.
We had paid off enough bills to get a loan to plant
5 more acres of blueberries and 5 acres of blackberries.
This was all put under irrigation powered by an electric 7-horse power motor with a drip system.
year - We ran irrigation all summer and Will
joined the work crew in May. This meant Debbie retired
from fieldwork. (A great loss). Scott was hired as our first
April years of dreams, hopes, tears, are all focused on
the weather report. Frost is predicted and 3,000 plastic bags
were put on each plant, by our now ex-friends, until 1:00am!
But dont worry we had to get them off by 8am to avoid
burning. The effort was rewarded with even colder
temperatures the next night. We had no one left and no
bags either, so
Jack Frost enjoyed that first crop.
For those in
to instant gratification, you will be glad to know
that we not only had a good crop, but enjoyed both TV and
newspaper coverage that year. Our sales shed was 4 posts, a
PVC frame, and a blue tarp. It blew away our last day of
sales as a group of good friends were leaving during a
thunderstorm. We planted our first Christmas trees.
quickly identified that the kids dont pick blueberries
very long, and built
The good news was that we had our first
blackberry crop. Five acres - and they were big as your thumb with wonderful
flavor! The bad news was... we would get picked out by noon
on Saturday, not because of the great quantities picked, but
because there just was not much out there. We would then
spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday telling people, "sorry
please come back". Yea right, two screaming kids, its hot,
and theyve driven 45 minutes and been lost twice! (Ill
see you when?)
Bill has decided that he likes marketing berries so much he
adds school for an MBA to the schedule of UGA County Agent for him and Mom,
and operating room nurse for Debbie. The
excitement for the summer was Blue, the golden retriever
gorging on the left over picnic lunches of the 4H kids
that had visited. Bill, on the way to night class, had given
the go ahead for the Veterinarian to operate, which gave the dog a
50/50 chance to live. On the way home Bill picked up the dog
and the $500 bill, which almost put him into coronary
arrest. Both Bill and Blue lived.
June was a great month,
because Katie was born! Will was disappointed, he wanted a brother.
July was a disappointment
because we had to plow under the pumpkin crop that was eaten
up with weeds, worms and not planted at the right time.
Bill did manage to graduate from Kennesaw.
A great year all round.
We had our first pumpkin crop,
Christmas tree crop, and the berries did well. The shed
received a concrete floor and was expanded with a tin roof.
Bill changed jobs and went to work with his brother in the
plastic molding business. The golf course neighbor traded a
little land for a nice new John Deere tractor.
After hearing about the reindeer that the Atlanta Zoo had at
Christmas, so to did Berry Patch Farms. The deer came from a
section of the North Pole called Huntsville Alabama, and the elf
that cared for them was also a truck driver. Debbie started
working just one day a week at Scottish Rite Hospital.
If there is any such thing as the good ole' days, this year
was one. The farm went well. The kids grew like weeds, and
life was good.
Just as you think life cant get any better, life allows
you to be humbled. One Sunday night after working all
weekend putting out $1,000 worth of gravel and spreading it
on the driveway hill -- a storm comes in. By 4am, an 18 gully had washed over half of the drive.
School buses were scheduled to arrive by 9am. Thankfully,
the John Deere had lights, so by 8:30am the road was good
enough to receive buses. We took out the blackberries and
planted more Christmas trees.
December was a month of challenge.
Bills Dad suddenly died the first week of December.
This made tree sales a
little different, but Will made sure that we did not spend
too much time mourning. Because the reindeer now cost their
weight in gold, Will and Bill had gone to Mississippi to get
two miniature horses. At dark, as we were closing from a busy
weekend of tree sales, Will cries out as if shot. Bills
reaction is, now what?! and starts the parental trot
towards the noise. Then the plea sounds that "I cant see"
and Bills gait turns to a run while commanding that Will
sit down and realizing that Will is in the horse pen. Will
had been kicked right between the eyes by Master the
stallion, but with the help of friends, Mom, and the
wonderful folks at Scottish Rite Hospital, there is hardly a
scar to remember this chapter. In fact, Will forgot to the
point that he was kicked in the head years later by another
A wonder milestone was the paving of our driveway.
marked the end of years of getting stuck, dirty cars, tons
of gravel, split oil pans and dust for our wonderful
neighbors. The stories are endless, but the biggest shock
came when the first four or five customers of blueberry
season arrived and said they missed the dirt
driveway. Go figure. The difference is living with it as
opposed to visiting it. Debbies Grandmother, Big Mama,
went to be with God December of this year. The word
about this ladys heart not her size. There is a stone on
the far side of the blueberries where she loved to pick.
She said the fruit would call to her as she tried to leave
the field with berries in buckets, hat, and pulled out
shirt. Four year old Will was once caught trying to hear
what a bucket of fruit she had picked was saying. We are
all lucky she came our way. The sales shed went through its
third enlargement to create a pie kitchen, and after great
experimentation, we started selling fried blueberry and
The summer was a wonderful crop of fruit and friends
visiting the farm. A hot August afternoon with Will
returning from Camp, clothes washing, and the noon news
telling of a plane crash at Charlie Brown Airport. The phone
rang and quickly we were a part of the story. Debbies
brother, Mike, who was one of the main pumpkin tractor
drivers, was in that plane. Two of the four on board died,
and Mike and a friend spent six weeks in ICU fighting
for their lives. Debbie, being the nurse, worked with the
hospital, her extended family and Mikes girl friend.
Oh yeah, Will said he had a lump on the side of his neck
as we were unloading the car from camp. Since school was
about to start and check ups were needed, a visit to the doctor
indicated the lump could be anything from cat scratch fever
to cancer, but it was nothing to worry about. Besides,
Mike to deal with, and tests were being done on Will. Six
weeks later, after tests were coming back inconclusive,
but still with the assurance from the medical team that it
is not nothing to worry about, a biopsy was ordered. The
Scottish Rite waiting room was a party. Mike was
finally doing good and scheduled to get out of ICU. Grandmother was there,
and Debbie was visiting with friends she
worked with and from bible study. Will was in an operating
room she had worked in for years, with a team she had picked,
and Bill had taken off work for a few hours. Besides, this
was routine, and all the other tests showed nothing to worry
about. Then the doctor walked in asked to speak to us alone, and the party ended.
Our twelve-year-old son,
that had taken nine years of marriage to be blessed with, had
cancer. Not a simple "we cut it all out, dont worry
cancer", but a rare, almost never seen in kids, radiation,
chemo-therapy cancer. God may have known that we
needed a challenge but, he also gave us all the tools we
needed, and thankfully we used them all. The Medical team,
friends, faith, and our wonderful customers all supported
our family through that year of treatment. Will has no
problems today, and the whole family is better for the
The family started a tradition this year.
Dream sessions. For three days over New Years, Bill, Debbie, Will and Katie
spend time in a cabin in the mountains without TV, radio or phone.
During this time we walk in the woods, put puzzles
together and set family and personal goals. This includes
everything from new barns to vacations to study habits.
There have been great successes and large failures. One of
the successes was the dream of what is now called the barn.
It started out as multi-use building to work on tractors,
store equipment, and allow customers to get in out of the
cold during Christmas tree sales. Well, the green roof
building is the work in progress, meeting all those goals and
more. Will gets a job trading stall cleaning for
We had no luck trying
to get the Atlanta Olympic
Committee to recognize berry picking as an Olympic sport, but
we still had a good year and added the pool to the back of
the barn. Katie has never been the same after 31 straight
days in the pool! We added the Kubota to the tractor fleet
to ensure enough hayrides. Katie starts selling popcorn with
great success at the farm.
Our great western vacation was enjoyed this year.
years in the planning. We spent one week at a Christian
family ranch, rappelling, hiking, and of course horseback
riding. We then spent a week in a motor home covering the
state of Colorado. The trip lived up to all expectations.
our return, Indy the dog, had been abandoned on our door
pumpkins were full of weeds and we needed an additional
tractor for hayrides. Bill bought a big red Ford 89 stack
bed truck, which is the first farm truck that was really
expected to return to the farm under its own power each
time it left.
Debbie and Bill
celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. With the help
of many dear friends and family, 125 people that have touched
our lives in some way, helped us celebrate the passing of 25
years and the renewal of vows for another 25 years. But it
is also unique that it is the 20th anniversary of our buying
the farm and the 15th anniversary of our first blueberry
sales. Katie graduated from the 6th grade and left school
with a box of awards, including a music award for clarinet.
Nobody knows where that talent comes from.
After 15 years of service and countless hours of joy, the
playground was rebuilt. Some improvements were made but,
basically it was redone for safety. One of our greatest
marketing busts was the sale of Y2K lights out jars. A nice
fired clay pot with candles, matches, and holder with
instructions. Bill is still hoping they may become a real collectors item.
With great effort on everyones part, Will graduated
from High School. He will attend Meredith Manor Equestrian School
in West Virginia. Those two horse kicks to the head never
did put any sense into him. The farm has done well during
the great drought. During the past 18 months we are down
36 in rain fall. Thanks to irrigation water.
Thank you -- These are small words but, they are very heart- felt.
success of this farm could not be possible with out the
hundreds of friends, family and coworkers that have given of
their time, talent, tears and sweat over the years. I hope
some day we will be able to share with them how much we
realize their importance to us, and how much we appreciate
all love to mark our lives with anniversaries and
graduations and the like. The graduation for this period is
that Will has successful completed his work at Meredith
Manor and graduated. The anniversary of note is that Scott
who first started working with me at the farm twenty years
ago is now operations manager at my day job, the plastic
plant indicated in 88. Now what is really neat about this
is Scott was 16 when he and I spent hours controlling weeds
in the blue berries and now he is married and the excellent
father of two little girls. It has been wonderful having him
as a friend and co-worker. His nephew, Tyler, now 16 has
also helped cut weeds this year in the blueberries. This is
one of the ways that one begins to realize that the grey
hair was earned and not just happened. You will also find a
picture of the oak Will and I planted 20 years ago, which
was six feet tall and now is a major shade source behind the
sales shed and wonder how time gets away.
Twenty years ago we fought with plastic bags to prevent
frost damage and lost our first crop. We have never lost the
whole crop since then but the good Lord just wanted to
remind us he is in charge and froze us out. That followed by two
plus years of drought makes one think about creating
condominiums. (Just kidding but its not all fun)
and I played volleyball back in 73 on our honeymoon and
the family played at the family camp we attend in Colorado
since97. Understand this has been the back yard hit,
slap, and giggle variety. Katies freshman year at
Sequoyah 01 she made the freshman team. To be honest she
was OK really much better in soccer, but it required a lot
of running. While attending a varsity match after her season
she tells dad that she wants to be on that court. He tells
her that she has to do a lot of work to get there but he has
faith. So what does this have to do with the farm? Well this
started a crash course on volleyball for the whole family.
We have played on three club teams, coached some, attended a
total of 11 camps and clinics in four different states and
attended 28 week end tournaments in 6 states. The farm has
established over an acre of level manicured Bermuda sod
which can be used for up to 12 courts at a time. At this
point Katie has played in several Championship matches
winning some and the high school team finished second for
the state. The Goal for 04 is to be first. Weve added
a volleyball page to web site so visit it if you like. Oh
yea, its not hit, slap giggle any more. Watch out for the
Katie starts her
senior year and Will moves to Florida to pursue his dream of
training horses. Sad to say Katie's volleyball team finished
2nd in the state for the second time. However they had a
great season. Will is teaching lessons at a resort in
Orlando and boards and teaches lessons with his own company
We lost our blue
berry crop to frost damage this year. The Good Lord again
reminding us who is in charge.
Below the shoes
of Jr/Sr Prom
Graduation of the
youngest and sending them off to school is a mixed blessing.
You want them to succeed but you sure miss 'em too. Katie
graduated and is attending Maryville College just outside
Knoxville. Yes she is playing volleyball and was named to
the All Freshman conference team as a defensive specialist.
At this time majoring in Education and doing well in school.
Will has added to the horse population of Florida and
helping out with the economy.
The big chance
for the farm is the addition of a John Deere hit or miss ice
cream maker. We have perfected a vanilla and lemon recipes
that have been big hits. It makes 5 gallons at a time and
everyone was pleased during pumpkin season.
coaching Volleyball again, a 17 and under girls team with a
new club called A5 Volleyball. A great challenge and very
rewarding. Debbie struggles with an empty nest and managing
her husband. We vacation at Bear Trap Ranch in Colorado for
the tenth straight year. It is a wonderful family camp at
9000 feet in the mountains and managed by Inter Varsity a
nondenominational Christian college campus outreach
program. It has become a very special place for our family.
In the spring Bill
still coaching with A5 but he was so bad they asked him to
be director in the Fall of 07. With Debbies wise counsel
he agrees without the responsibility of coaching. Remember
there is a farm, the plastics job and a family. There is no
order at this point. After a wonderful cruise in January
with 95 year young Aunt Dot and Bills Mom, Marjorie 88, has
radiation treatment to both legs for skin cancer. All goes
well until the last week of treatment when Mom becomes weak
and legs appear to be very burned. The short version of the
story is she ends up in the burn unit in Augusta has a
seizure and spends six weeks in ICU and only wakes up after
being transferred to a hospice in Cartersville. The great
news is she celebrates her 89 birthday there and gets so
healthy they kick her out. The Lord had also been kind
enough to allow us to have a late frost that killed all our
blue berry flowers causing no crop so Debbie had time help
care for Mom.
Katie spent the
summer of a lifetime working at Bear Trap Ranch.
year of the farm allows Debbie and Bill to really realize
how blessed they are to have had the chance to work the
farm. That takes three different branches. First branch is
what a tremendous environment to have raised a wonderful
family and shared with our kids friends and extended
family. Next our customers have become almost like family
watching them grow up and come back with their kids.
Apparently there is something they enjoyed as a child that
they want to share with their own children. It really makes
you feel we are doing something right. Because, lets face
it you can get blue berries, pumpkins and Christmas Trees
often much easier someplace else. The last group we must
have great appreciation for is all the folks that have
helped/worked the farm. Naming them would be boring and we
would leave an important person out. However we have been
blessed with whole families, two generations so far, doing
fun work and hard work while enduring, frost, freezing,
flooding, heat, drought, burns, blisters, animal attacks,
pest control, and crazy co-workers and customers. Our lives
have been blessed by those who have shared our dream and
help make it a reality. Thanks is so weak an attempt to show
appreciation but without them the lives of all the Durdens
would not be as rich. If any of them ever found this note on
the web site know you are special to us.
Will makes time to
come home to help out with the farm during October, pumpkin
season. What a wonderful time spent with a mature young man
and the help was outstanding. Debbie was really pleased to
have him here when we had to put our dogs of 12 years down
because of illness.
Mom has to have
her legs amputated which is really hard for some one that
had been completely self supportive and playing golf just 12
months before. She is doing well in assisted living in
Katie spent the
summer working out with her college volleyball team and
enjoyed employment with the Boys and Girls Club in Maryville
Tn. The farm although faced a drought fared well with
irrigation and a few well timed showers.
The driest of
times and wettest of times. The drought has gone on for two
years causing lots of issues from wells running out of water
causing toilets to dry up and fruit being half the size it
should have been. But by October we were seeing record
rains and 100s of cars stuck in the mud during pumpkin
season historically our driest month. The beavers which had
been gone for two years even returned to dam a creek and
flood the lower field.
We all celebrate
Katies graduation from Maryville but the job market for
teachers drives her to graduate school at UT in Special Ed.
My Auburn dollars going to UT is really hard to do, but she
is my kid.
A Golden Retriever
rescue group rejected Bills application for a recue dog.
It really hurt his feelings because he had passed inspection
to adapt Will 27 years ago and passed an annual background
check to coach 16 year old female volleyball players but is
not fit for rescued Goldens. Undaunted Bill and Katie found
the perfect new Golden puppy from a breeder for the farm.
Her name is Macie and promises to live up to the great
tradition of dogs that we have enjoyed being on the farm and
enjoyed by our visitors.
here to see our picture gallery!
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last updated: November 04, 2012