SANDLICK — A blossoming agri-tourism business is getting off the ground in the Sandlick area of Mercer County.

Blue Sky Orchards, owned by the McDuffee family, has already started offering the opportunity for people to pick their own apples and, earlier this year, blackberries, but this is only the beginning.

Kristin McDuffee, daughter-in-law of Bruce McDuffee, said they are all from Colorado and she and her husband had traveled across the country learning about organic farming and that is “what put the dream in our mind to do farming.”

“We talked my in-laws into doing it and this is their retirement,” she said of the more than 70 acres of farmland off Sandlick Road.

“We looked for land all over the place but found this gem nestled right here in Mercer County,” she said. “You can’t buy a better view and it came established so we walked in having blackberries, apples, peaches and grapes.”

The farm was called Nappalachian Farm and the previous owner had wanted to establish a winery on the property, she added.

McDuffee said they moved here in June and they are learning as they go, with a lot of work still ahead.

“We had a great yield with our blackberries this season,” she said, and they continue to make plans to enhance their apple crops and other products.

“We need to do some work and we’ve been working a lot on it,” said Bruce McDuffee. “We really want to get folks our here to learn about it.”

The blackberry “u-pick” was very popular, he said. “We didn’t have a u-pick on the peaches” but Kristin McDuffee said they were “selling them as fast as we could pick them.”

They also brought peaches and apples to the farmer’s market in Princeton and made apple cider on site, which proved to be “our best product,” she said, as they have a shredder and a press and make it in front of everyone at the farmer’s market.

Their orchard is adjusting to establishing regular hours to be open, and planning for next year.

“We will have to redo it next season to see what everybody is doing and where we are,” she said of the hours they will be open. “We have had it open for two or three days a week for a set amount of hours.”

“Our vision is to have a regular agri-tourism destination,” Bruce McDuffee said, including a building and events in the fall with pumpkins and cider. “We just really want to let folks know this is here and let them know what we have and that it’s a fun destination and have families come out.”

Blue Sky Orchards is the only place that offers u-pick apples in the county, with golden delicious apples recently being promoted but others on the way, including honey crisp, pink lady and jonagold, a cross between the Jonathan and golden delicious.

“That’s our family business, that’s our dream, to make it a family destination,” he said. “The other thing we want to do, maybe next year, is to invite elementary schools to come out here on field trips. My wife is a retired kindergarten teacher and back in Colorado she took her kids to a farm and they loved it.”

Kristin McDuffee said they could also do nature and lifecycle classes on things like caterpillars and butterflies, making it a great outing for classes and for families, and just a fun thing to do.

“We want to be a service to the community,” Bruce McDuffee said. “We know we are never going to make a lot of money here at this farm. It’s just too small. But we want to be a service so folks can get educated and get local farm fresh food.”

Although the apple season is nearing its end, the McDuffees said they will be back next year, with plenty more to offer, and to do.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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