A Look Back
A chance summer visit to a cousin’s home on the East Coast at the age of 14 instilled a powerful love of blueberries in Dave Brazelton that would set his course in life. Dave’s cousin Beverly and her husband owned a 1,000 acre lowbush blueberry farm in New Hampshire. He worked on the blueberry farm that summer and was the first person there to hand-harvest more than 1,000 pounds in one day of picking. His immediate love of the berry and for the practice of blueberry farming ignited a passion that would eventually make him a trusted blueberry expert around the globe.
Fast forward a few years when Dave was in his early 20s working as a veterinarian technician in Humboldt County, California. Through these early years, Dave never forgot his experience on that blueberry farm and knew with absolute clarity that he wanted a farm of his own. And as fly fishing was Dave’s second passion, he knew that he wanted to farm in the West.
Through a close friend, Dave met Barbara during this time in Humboldt County. She was in nursing school and during their courtship they discovered that they both wanted to own property in a rural setting and farm. They initially pooled $5,000 between them and bought what they described as a “shack on five acres,” and their shared love of farming began. Three years after their fateful first date, Dave and Barbara were married. Soon after they sold this farm and began the search for a more permanent farm.
Their search for the perfect blueberry farm began. They visited blueberry farms around the West. On a visit to Oregon, a local grower gave them a list of other growers. Dave and Barbara sent a letter out to all these growers telling them of their desire to purchase a blueberry farm. Many wrote back. One recipient of the Brazelton’s letter made a telephone call to Barbara.
“I need you to come buy my farm,” urged Marge Calkins on that fateful day in 1978. Marge had 25 acres in Lowell, Oregon, with an established blueberry farm, a small blueberry wholesale division, and a retail ornamental nursery business. Barbara knew from its description that the Lowell farm was likely beyond their budget and she tried to explain that to Marge, but Marge continued to pressure them to come and see the farm. Her response to their worries was, “Honey, my farm doesn’t cost you money, it makes you money! Come on up here and see it yourself.”
So on a beautiful April spring day, Dave and Barbara made a visit to Marge’s Blueberry Hills Nursery. And soon they reached an agreement and Dave and Barbara bought the farm in 1978. Marge convinced them to change the name and she was the one to suggest Fall Creek Farm & Nursery so people would know where it was located.
Dave, the vet tech, and Barbara, the nurse, soon realized their learning curve was significant, but the retail nursery and landscaping business managed to support them. In 1980 when son Cort was born, the decision was made for the nursery to become wholesale only. And by 1984 when daughter Amelie was born, the farm had 15 acres planted in blueberries which the Brazeltons sold to local grocers. Barbara would load up their two small children every Tuesday and Friday to deliver the fresh berries around town with these kids in tow.
In the 1980s Gregg and Becky Vollstedt came on board as partners and the company was incorporated. The Brazeltons and Vollstedts wore multiple hats in the early days. As the company expanded, Dave focused on sales and grower support and Gregg on the nursery. Barbara managed human resources, finances and accounts payable and Becky was in charge of inventory, payroll and accounts receivable. Gregg, a third generation nurseryman, brought the nursery production knowledge and commitment to the cleanliness and organization for which the nursery is known today. Barbara and Becky ran the business side, instilling the values and corporate culture that is such a core part of Fall Creek.
In those early years, Dave maintained a science-like approach to blueberry farming, collecting extensive production data on every variety, which he began sharing with the industry. Dave made it his mission to learn everything he could about all aspects of the industry.
A major milestone for Fall Creek Farm & Nursery took place when New Zealand’s Hort Research paid a visit to Fall Creek and made them the exclusive American nursery for their first patented variety, Reka. This relationship developed over time and turned into a joint breeding effort in the 1990s, to which Fall Creek bought sole rights in 2005.
In addition, starting in the 1990s Dave reached out to the university breeding programs around the US, which would later become a pillar of Fall Creek’s success in its variety portfolio.
Through this time, Fall Creek became known for its development of high-health tissue culture nursery propagation and production systems, and under Gregg’s careful watch and commitment to process improvement, Fall Creek’s plant quality and uniformity became known throughout the industry, which was especially important since blueberries are a perennial crop.
In the fall of 1997, the first professional offices were constructed that would allow for growth to 10 office personnel. The nursery continued to expand both in acreage and facilities including office space, covered growing spaces, state-of-the-art propagation greenhouses and more. By 2006 the company had grown exponentially and over a dozen new staff and management positions were filled.
During these years of growth and expansion, Dave spent much of his time traveling the world. He met with breeders, offered trialing, visited growers, gathered data, maintained an active role in industry associations and shared his expertise with people around the globe.
By the mid 1990s breakthrough health information on blueberries was touted by the press. The Brazeltons and Vollstedts knew that growth of their business and of the blueberry industry in general was imminent. An aggressive plan was put into place to continue building the nursery's infrastructure and team to be responsive to increased demands.
In 2010 came another milestone with a change in ownership. Wishing to get out of the boardroom and to support the succession planning for Fall Creek, Gregg and Becky Vollstedt sold their shares of the company back to the Brazeltons. Becky officially retired to her farmhouse and love of art. Gregg remains on board in a pivotal management role and is back to doing what he loves best – growing the best blueberry plants in the world. The second generation of Brazeltons is on board (see side bar) in key roles in operations. Son Cort Brazelton oversees international business development, while daughter Amelie Aust leads intellectual properties and the licensing department as well as Fall Creek’s variety development program. Amelie’s husband, Boris Aust from Germany, is the company’s chief financial officer.
A lot has happened since that fateful day when Dave Brazelton, as a young boy on a blueberry farm in New Hampshire, first discovered a love of blueberries and farming. A decade later the original home place farm was purchased and Fall Creek Farm & Nursery was founded. Over the next three decades, Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Inc., has grown to become the world’s leading blueberry nursery stock provider. With a series of new variety launches emminent through Fall Creek’s private breeding program and cooperative breeding programs, Fall Creek will bring exciting new blueberry variety solutions to commercial fruit growers and nurseries throughout the world.
Fall Creek – The Story Of The Second Generation
As the nursery continued to grow, it became increasingly difficult to run the fresh fruit part of their business. Dave and Barbara’s children, Cort and Amelie, were interested in running the fresh fruit business. In the early 1990s, when Cort and Amelie turned 12 and 9, Dave and Barbara set up a business in which the kids could share in the profits. Gradually through the years, Cort and Amelie took over complete control of the thriving fresh fruit business – selling fruit through a retail farm stand and on a wholesale level to local stores, food product businesses and restaurants. The kids very quickly learned the ins and outs of running their own business, including harvesting, sorting, packing, quality control, selling, marketing, money management, bookkeeping and more.
Brazelton family lore recounts how Dave and Barbara set up the kids’ fresh fruit business in the early years to minimize sibling squabbles. A contract was drafted – every time the kids got into an argument and the parents had to intervene, the kids were charged a fee equivalent to 5% of profits. The contract was a success!
By the last year of the fruit stand in 2003, the business sold out at 35,000 pounds of fresh blueberries in just two weeks. It was bittersweet, with long-time customers expressing their fond memories of annually buying fruit from the Brazelton children and watching them grow up in the business, and of course visiting the family labrador.
After college, Cort spent time working in the berry industry in product sourcing and consulting. Amelie finished her intellectual property law degree in Germany and then married Boris Aust, an investment banker from Frankfurt. Soon after, Cort, Amelie and Boris decided to return to the family business in 2007. The second generation is an integral part now at Fall Creek with the trio all playing key roles in the day-to-day operations and the strategic planning for Fall Creek in the future. They bring a passion for blueberries and very specialized areas of expertise that round out the Fall Creek team. The future of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery is very bright indeed.