JD Farms begins sharing tea and blueberries with Poplarville community

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, May 16, 2017

For the past few years, a Poplarville farm kept its newest product under wraps, waiting for the right moment to create a buzz.
JD Farms held an open house and blue ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday in honor of their new line of tea products and the establishment of a café.
Jeff Brown and Don van de Werken bought the farm in 2004, just before Hurricane Katrina and began growing fresh blueberries, selling them at farmers markets in New Orleans, and have how expanded into the tea market, van de Werken said.
Brown and van de Werken gave tours of the property during Thursday’s open house, explaining the intricacies of their business with guests.
To attract more members of the community, Brown said they hope to begin weekly or monthly afternoon teas at the new café where they currently sell products made from the fruits of their labor.
They are also exploring the possibility of offering cabin rentals on the farm to locals and tourists who want a peaceful retreat, Brown said.
The tea project started eight years ago when the team decided to try their luck at the crop after discovering the conditions and process was fairly similar to growing their beloved blueberries.
A story van de Werken heard on Mississippi Public Broadcasting revealed that tea was originally grown in this part of the state, and inspired the team to try their luck with the Oriental plant, he said.
Because they also needed an alternative crop when blueberries are dormant, the similar soil needs of tea plants provided the perfect complement, van de Werken said.
With the help of Mississippi State University doctoral candidates and researchers, the process of developing their own tea began to brew, van de Werken said.
But the next challenge was getting ahold of the proper equipment, and then learning how to use it, he said.
After a friend convinced van de Werken to visit India and witness the breathtaking tea fields, the endeavor became more serious, he said.
After the visit abroad, the crew brought back equipment to get their endeavor underway, learning how each leaf from the tea plant is used to make a different variety, from black, green, yellow and white, van de Werken said.
Similar to other plants, the tea bushes grow new leaves after pruning, Brown said.
While they have machines to help pick the leaves, handpicking still seems to be the best method, he said.
One of the most notable discoveries, Brown said, was the taste difference between the bushes that receive only filtered light from under a canopy, and those in open fields.
JD Farms is located at 574 Slade Woodward Rd, Poplarville.

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About Julia Arenstam

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