Our newsletter sometimes includes a profile of a NARBA member grower. In the Winter 2014-2015 we featured a cross-section of members, sending out queries to approximately every 19th and 20th name on the membership list, skipping research members and those that had been profiled in the newsletter, had been on the Executive Committee, or presented at a conference. Here are eight members who responded or were contacted by phone.
Ben Butler, Butler’s Orchard, Germantown, Maryland: I am a member of the third generation at Butler’s Orchard, and we’ve been members for as long as I know [since 2008]. We joined to be a part of the bramble growers community. There are not a lot of bramble growers, so it has been a great network to be a part of. We like being members because of the access to good information. We are able to access information, other growers, researchers and really anyone in the industry that could help us be better growers.
We are located 30 miles north of Washington, D.C. in Germantown, MD. We are a family owned and operated pick-your-own farm with three members of the third generation eager to help the business grow. While we love farming, our agritainment side of the business has been growing rapidly in the last few years. We soon hope to have black raspberry, blackberry, and red raspberry festivals to bring our customers to the farm to celebrate the wonderful flavors and health benefits of these berries. We are also planning to plant brambles in our high tunnel this coming spring. (Any suggestions on varieties?) We have 14 acres of brambles, divided among red raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries. We also grow strawberries, peas, tart cherries, blueberries, apples, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and a variety of vegetables. We sell 95% of our fruit through pick-your-own.
Ron Lipina, Eagle Pointe Farm, St. Louis, Missouri: We joined two years ago when I started the blackberry business. I was visiting a Missouri winery and got talking to the owner and he mentioned that he wished he could buy Missouri- grown blackberries. I was wanting to start a business and decided to give it a try. I researched on the internet for two years trying to learn how to get started growing blackberries. During this research I saw information about NARBA and decided to join. The winery owner suggested that I look into shift trellises and I also researched that. I used to be a welder by profession so I could custom make the shift trellises myself. I am employed as a firefighter/EMT and decided this would be a perfect side job. It does take a lot of hours but I enjoy working outdoors. I have around an acre of blackberries on shift trellises. We raise Chester blackberries and sell to the Missouri wineries. I enjoy the newsletter and all the information. Every article is interesting and I am looking forward to attending the next conference.
Catherine Greene, Wild Thing Farm, Pocola, Oklahoma: I joined NARBA two years ago prior to attending the meeting in Oregon. I hoped that I would gain much needed advice/information from those with experience to enhance my limited knowledge. I enjoy the newsletter and find the Facebook Group /posts helpful. We are a small farm located on the eastern border of Oklahoma. We offer a wide variety of produce beginning with asparagus and strawberries in the spring, though we also grow and sell a variety of greens throughout the winter. All of the fruits we grow (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) are sold on the farm either as pick your own or in our farm store. Vegetables are sold only as pre-picked. A CSA is also offered. Field trips from schools and daycares, birthday parties, and scouts are given the opportunity to pick fruit as they tour the farm. The fall is our busiest season. A pumpkin patch, corn maze and other activities are available to keep a whole family busy for a few hours. Our family enjoys seeing the visitors and watching kids grow up and return with their families.
John and Cindy Albert, Ruffwing Farms, Lancaster, Ohio: We joined 4-5 years ago. I joined because NARBA member Tom Althauser, who lives near me, got me started. Our number one reason to be members is for information and dialogue with others. Through NARBA, I can learn, I can see what other people have done, and if I have a question, I notice it tends to show up in the discussion. We have two acres of black raspberries, Jewel and MacBlack, and four acres of raspberries, plus a hoop house with red raspberries. I had an engineering firm for 20 years, and my wife is a teacher. We also raise sheep and sell lambs and lamb meat.
Jack and Diana Jacobs, Jacobs Family Berry Farm, Gardnerville, Nevada: We joined in 2010 to attend the conference in Monterey. We enjoy learning from other members about growing berries. We have a small historic (1870s) farm, growing and selling berries and berry products on site. We are growing nearly 1000 raspberry and blackberry plants, 16 varieties with red raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries). While we have other fruits and vegetables we have limited our sales to the berries so far. We also make jams, syrups (we call this “essence” since we have intense flavors and little sugar) and are experimenting with dehydrated berries. We sell direct from our property as our customers enjoy visiting and learning about our berries. We conduct berry tasting with our customers to allow them to learn about the different flavors of our wide range in varieties of berries. We sell a small amount to restaurants who believe in promoting “local” and the small farmer. We also have started a “subscription” program where customers commit to a season of berries…typically a weekly pickup of 2-4 boxes with the varieties changing over the season. This lasts throughout the harvest, about 14 weeks. These subscribers will often be rewarded with an extra box or two during the peak of the season when harvest is greatest (mid-August). We freeze any berries that are not purchased fresh in a few days and use those for making berry products during the off-season or to sell as frozen berries in the off-season. We have incorporated sharing our old property with our customers, explaining what we do here and using our property for events (family reunions, weddings, corporate events and filming, etc).
Jim Pike, Pike Farms, Sagaponack, New York: I joined initially because I felt I should support the organization – blackberries and raspberries don’t get a lot of research funding. We are primarily vegetable growers, with about 50 acres in vegetables, and raise less than an acre of raspberries and blackberries. For us, a half-acre of brambles is a lot in terms of the time and attention they require. Jim has been a member since 2006.
Steve Upson, The Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma: I’m a horticultural consultant, and try to keep up with as many producer groups as I can. The Noble Foundation is a private foundation started in 1945, with a focus on agriculture. I am kind of a jack-of-all trades for fruit and vegetable crops. I work with a lot of our local growers in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, and we also have demonstrations here on the grounds. Blackberries are one of the fruit crops we encourage folks to start out with. They grow well, and don’t take as much time or capital to establish as something like fruit trees. Steve has been a member for almost 20 years.
Jim Faix, Fresh Produce Ltd, Othello, Washington: I’m a full-time farmer, long-time berry grower, and farmer market seller. I farm in the irrigated desert in eastern Washington. We have maybe one and a half acres of caneberries; I also raise vegetables and grapes. One thing we do that is unusual is raise Southern peas: black eyed peas, crowder peas. I furnish all the Southerners in our area – they come to the market and fight over them. This year we had trouble getting pickers for the berries. I was in competition with the apple growers and all of a sudden I was out in the open without any help, watching berries fall on the ground and worrying about berry pests. I like the information I receive through NARBA.” Jim has been a member for more than 20 years.