By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Alma, Bacon County | Region 11
Agriculture is Georgia’s No. 1 industry. Think about all of the great things that are grown here: poultry, peanuts, peaches, pecans, pine trees, cotton…the list goes on and on.
But one crop is gaining significant attention, especially in Southeast Georgia: blueberries! In 2014, Georgia produced 96 million pounds of the superfood – besting Michigan, the traditional blueberry capital of the nation. Now, that is a lot of fruit!
Ann Wildes, owner of The Blueberry Barn in Alma, has the greatest variety of blueberry-based products around.
In business since October 1, 2013, The Blueberry Barn specializes in blueberry food products, crafts, handmade items and blueberry promotional products. They sell locally-made products, as well as unique and hard-to-find blueberry items in Georgia and other states.
During blueberry season (which runs from the end of April through the middle of July), they feature blueberries picked fresh on the Wilde’s 40-acre farm in the store.
Ann’s business venture began after a career in education at the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service. Not wanting to rest on her laurels after retirement, she had a burning desire to open her own business. It wasn’t until a trip to Maine in 2012 that Ann decided what she wanted to do.
Maine is known for blueberries, and Ann saw many unique blueberry products that she never knew existed. In 2013, Ann and her husband took a second trip to Alaska, where they saw a whole new world of food made from blueberries. It was after these trips that Ann decided to open The Blueberry Barn.
Although Alma is the Blueberry Capital of Georgia, Ann commented that people who come to visit or just pass through town haven’t been able to find anything blueberry! Even fresh blueberries are hard to find in season because the bulk of the crop is grown and sold commercially, making it difficult to find them in stores or on the street corner.
For the last two and a half years, Ann has been steadily growing her line of products available, which now exceeds more than 200 items! Ann is also licensed to make food products for sale in the store. She hopes to have blueberry pies and cakes available for sale during the next Georgia Blueberry Festival (June 3 & 4 in Alma).
“Without a doubt the most rewarding part of my business is getting to meet new people and renew old acquaintances,” stated Ann.
“I love to talk to people, and this venture has provided me the opportunity to share a great product that is good for you and has many health-related benefits.” –Ann Wildes, owner of The Blueberry Barn
“I have the chance to speak to various groups about the business and especially about blueberries,” she said. “I also travel to other towns and set up a booth at festivals to promote my products.”
Ann used her connections within Georgia’s blueberry industry to fill a need in her community. She believes that Georgia a great place to start a business because of the partners that she has had during her small business journey.
Ann commented that her greatest challenge has been trying to find the best and most cost-effective ways to get her business out to the people who would be interested. Entrepreneurs learn much of what they know by talking to other entrepreneurs, and Ann seconds that.
“I would simply encourage new entrepreneurs to talk to business owners, get their ideas and listen to them as they share their successes and failures and learn not to make the same mistakes. Don’t be afraid to step out and try something. You only fail if you do nothing!”
So the next time you’re traveling down US Highway 1, and have a hankering for something blueberry, stop by The Blueberry Barn!
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development, at (229) 868-3428 or [email protected].