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Tom Trueman’s roots in the Tantramar region of New Brunswick run deep, almost 250 years deep. He’s the owner and operator of Trueman Blueberry Farm on Etter’s Ridge Road near Aulac, and the eighth generation of the Trueman family to farm in this region along the Nova Scotian border.

Trueman’s ancestors emigrated to Canada in 1774 and established Prospect Farm — “the home farm” as he refers to it — a short distance down the road from his place.

“The Truemans were tenant farmers from Yorkshire, England, who left because the rent on the land was becoming too expensive and they were looking for new opportunities,” he explains. “There are Truemans all over North America now who trace their roots back to this farm.”

The agricultural tradition has continued in Tom’s branch of the family. He grew up helping out on the family dairy farm, working alongside his grandfather, father, and uncle. When Trueman decided to start his own business, running his own farm seemed a “natural path.”

In 2001, Tom acquired his first blueberry field. Today, Trueman Blueberry Farm includes several hundred hectares of wild blueberries and an apiary. He sells the bulk of wild blueberries to Oxford Frozen Foods, in nearby Oxford, N.S., where workers freeze and package them for distribution worldwide.

Tom and his wife, Krista, have worked over the last two decades to develop their blueberry business, but it hasn’t been easy. Blueberry growers face the same challenges of any farmer: pests, disease, labour shortages, and
the weather.

Perhaps one of the more difficult challenges for growers like Tom is the cyclical nature of the business. About seven years ago, the Truemans took their first steps into the agritourism sector to help buffer the ups and downs of the marketplace.

“In 2015 to 2016, we were heading into a lower-price trend,” he explains. “As a business, we decided we should diversify a little bit. We had available land, so we decided to plant some permaculture crops for a U-pick.”

In 2016, the Truemans put in their first raspberry plants. The following year, with the raspberries starting to bear fruit, they built a small farmstand to accommodate the U-pick, started selling fresh homemade bread, and planted a sunflower maze. They made enough money that year to expand the U-pick, planting more raspberries, plus highbush blueberries.

Then, in early 2018 with snow covering the fields, the Truemans attended an ice cream-making workshop. They spent the rest of the winter honing their skills and that summer, hired a full-time ice-cream maker. It was a decision that would elevate the farm’s retail business.

“It just exploded,” says Tom of the dessert’s popularity.

The original farmstand has expanded four times to accommodate the busy ice-cream operation and retail shop. This year, the family added on a large barn-like space with picnic tables for customers to gather and even listen to live music on occasion.

The sunflower maze now covers 2.4 hectares with 250,000 blooms. The U-pick operation has also grown to include several varieties of raspberries and highbush blueberries, lowbush blueberries, pumpkins and, for the first time in 2022, tulips. 

With activities to please kids, like a giant inflatable bouncy pillow and a wagon train ride, Truemans has become a family destination. On a typical summer weekend when the weather is nice, the Truemans say they have 800 to 1,000 visitors a day. Tom expects 100,000 this year.

While the ice cream is a big draw, Trueman believes that customers visit for the rural experience. “We think that the fact that people can come and enjoy the farm, the pond, kids can play, is part of the attraction. Certainly, the ice cream is good, but it’s more than that.”

For some customers, a trip to Trueman Blueberry Farm has become an important ritual. “The other day, a gentleman sat down and said ‘I bring my 91-year-old father here. We drive from Moncton. And I want you to know how appreciative we are — he doesn’t want to go anywhere, but he does want to come here for ice cream.’ And they come and they sit and they have time together.”

Trueman also feels good about being able to employ locals. About 40 people work in the retail operation during peak season, many of them students. “As a business owner, to have 25 to 35 young people employed here, enjoying the workplace, learning life lessons, the importance of teamwork and responsibility, it means a lot,” he says.

The farm continues to be very much a family business. Several family members work there and Tom’s 84-year-old father helps. Tom’s two adult children work in the retail agri-tourism operation.

Developing that side of the business has let the children, who are in their 20s, stay connected.

“They aren’t really interested at this point in their careers in working on the farm as farmers, driving a tractor and so on,” explains Trueman. “But they are interested in the retail part of the business. If the retail allows them to be part of the business, gives them a future, provides them with an opportunity on the farm, then that’s a way forward.”

Inside the recently expanded farmstand, he runs his hand over the rustic boards covering the room’s new front wall. The boards are from one of the last hay barns belonging to the Trueman family that stood for decades on the nearby Tantramar marsh. Time and the marsh winds may have knocked most of the old marsh barns down, but Tom and his family have found new ways to carry on the Trueman agricultural tradition.  

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