A CLOSER LOOK: Berry farming has a ‘sunny’ tradition in Booneville

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BOONEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Sunny Bradshaw wanted to grow blackberries, strawberries and blueberries when he came to Booneville, and he got to realize his dream when he and his wife Linda Rose opened Sunnyland Berry Farm.

The Bradshaws have been running Sunnyland since 1983, a time when Ronald Reagan was president and Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Since then, they have raised countless berries and many neighborhood children.

The Bradshaws came to Booneville from Stoneville, Miss., where Sunny worked in rice research. They came to Booneville so Bradshaw could take a job in the Dale Bumpers Research Farm’s small fruits division. Linda also took a job at the research farm, taking a job in the grasses division.

“I wanted to raise blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries before I came here,” Sunny said.

A Fouke man named Aubrey Enoch inspired Sunny to raise the berries.

“He and his wife were both [retired] school teachers. They had strawberries, blackberries and blueberries on their property. I just listened to him, and I went back home [to Mississippi], and for eight years I searched Arkansas for a place to work and a place to raise this fruit. I found the place, and we’ve been here for 36 years,” Sunny said.

Farming wasn’t much of a transition for Sunny. As a rice researcher, Sunny worked with horse tractors and Japanese harvesting equipment.

Sunny and Linda did some research before they started farming.

“We visited over eight farms in the area before we even planted. What you do, you see what the farmers in the local area are raising,” Sunny said.

The Bradshaws found that no other farmers in the area were raising blueberries, strawberries or blackberries.

Sunny read a book on how farmers can successfully tap into their customer base.

“What you do is you put a pinpoint [on your property] and then you draw a circle 30 miles out away from your property. From your pinpoint you go 30 miles, and then when you go all the way around and make the circle you’re doing 60 miles away from your property,” Bradshaw said. “You’re seeing where you’re going to draw your customers, you know, the small towns, how many people you’re going to draw from. I had five or six [towns] that were 4,000 people, and of course, we have Fort Smith, that’s 60,000 or more.”

At first, Sunny and Linda didn’t have competitors who farmed blackberries, blueberries and strawberries, but when a competitor came along, Sunny made sure to shake his hand.

“I would shake the man’s hand because I know how much work it involves; in order to do what I’m doing, it takes a lot of work,” he said.

The Bradshaws’ farm was 10 acres.

In 1990, the Sunnyland had one-and-a-third acre filled with four varieties of blackberries, two and a half acres of cardinal strawberries, two and a half acres worth of blueberries, 144 peach trees of eight different varieties, boysenberries, table grapes and 400 tomato plants.

“At one time, our 10 acres was the most diversified fruit farm in Northwest Arkansas with eight different kind of fruits on the property,” Sunny said.

Sunnyland also featured a pond that folks could come and catch catfish from.

“I would charge $1 per pole to go to the pond,” Sunny said.

In 1990, Sunny and Linda were named Farm Family of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

The Bradshaws raised something more special than berries at Sunnyland. They helped raise 15 children. With the exception of their son, all the kids were from around the neighborhood. The kids would help Sunny and Linda pick fruit and were paid .30 cents a quart. The girls picked faster than the boys, Sunny said.

Although Sunnyland has winded down a bit in berry output, Sunny and Linda are still plenty busy.

“The plants are still there. What I’m going to wait for is cold weather, and I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna brush all of them down again, and then hopefully in March and April I will have small plants growing, and I will transplant them to the garden, and then in three years, if I’m still alive, we will have a massive harvest of blackberries,” Sunny said.

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