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  Ma and Pa Durden

1978

After 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.

1979

The 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.

 

1980

We 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.

 

1981

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.

 

1982

Big drought 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 field hand.

 

1983

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 don’t 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.

 

1984



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.  Bill quickly identified that the kids don’t pick blueberries very long, and built a playground.

 

1985

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, it’s hot, and they’ve driven 45 minutes and been lost twice!  (I’ll see you when?)

 

1986

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.

 

1987

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.  But Bill did manage to graduate from Kennesaw.

 

1988

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.

 

1989

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.

 

1990

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.

 

1991

Just as you think life can’t 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.

 

1992

December was a month of challenge.  Bill’s 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.  Bill’s reaction is, “now what?!” and starts the parental trot towards the noise.  Then the plea sounds that "I can’t see" and Bill’s 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 horse.

 

1993

A wonder milestone was the paving of our driveway.  This 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.  Debbie’s Grandmother, Big Mama, went to be with God December of this year.  The word "Big" was about this lady’s 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 apple pies.

 

1994

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.  Debbie’s 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 Mike’s 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, Debbie had 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, don’t 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 experience.

 

1995

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 horseback lessons.

 

1996

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.

 

1997

Our great western vacation was enjoyed this year.  Two plus 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.  On our return, Indy the dog, had been abandoned on our door step.  The 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 it’s own power each time it left.

 

1998

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.

 

1999

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.

 

2000

With great effort on everyone’s 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.  The 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 their support.

 

2002

We 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.

 

2003

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 it’s not all fun)

Debbie and I played volleyball back in ’73 on our honeymoon and the family played at the family camp we attend in Colorado since’97. Understand this has been the back yard hit, slap, and giggle variety. Katie’s 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. We’ve added a volleyball page to web site so visit it if you like. Oh yea, it’s not hit, slap giggle any more. Watch out for the ACE.

 

2004

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 Will Equestrian.

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

 

2005

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. 

 

2006

Bill starts 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.

2007

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 Debbie’s 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 Bill’s 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.

 

2008

The 20th 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 kid’s 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, let’s 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 Alpharetta.

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.

 

2009

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 100’s 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 Katie’s 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  Bill’s 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.  

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