Berry, berry good
When I’ve driven the interstates and other main roads of this state, I’ve often had the thought: What do people DO living here? I love being able to blog for the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia! I have met and spent time with so many wonderful people! Just wanted to say that!
Shady Oaks Farm is located on the top of one of the hills overlooking the Kanawha River Valley near Poca. Chris Burdette met me at his mailbox and we made the drive up up up the hillside to the farm in his 4-wheel-drive truck. He grew up there and his family had cattle in those days. He met Leslie while he was working a full time job (BESIDES the farm) and really believed taking her to the farm would scare that suburban girl away. They have been married over 15 years. As Chris said, “Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right!
Chris explained how they were able to participate in several programs offered by the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Services section of the US Department of Agriculture). One was to install a high tunnel. There are many requirements for participation, some involving the site development itself and some involving record keeping afterwards. Chris and Leslie have learned from the experience and plan to purchase another high tunnel for further production.
With the use of the high tunnel and another greenhouse Chris and Leslie are able to start seedlings to grow for sale as well as planting for their own berry production. They are in the process of changing over to organic farming and said that the system takes at least three years for certification. Until that time they can not even say they are “organic practice” which admittedly is helpful information to consumers.
The Burdettes participate in the Capital Market as well as in the Putnam County Farmers’ Market. Leslie said that she often sells out her berries within three hours! Chris told me some people with SUVs drive up to the farm to purchase berries as well, although they don’t encourage that. Last year they sold 700 half pints of raspberries. This year they expect to produce two to three times as many and the flowers and buds look promising.
The best earner many years, however, has been the ginseng. With a huge Asian market, if they can get their roots to make it through 5-10 years before harvesting, they can earn quite a bit. The big issue is IF the roots will survive. By planting in the woods, they are simulating wild ginseng conditions and therefore are exposed to the variety of predators that enjoy ginseng in their diet. Chris told me how he had planted over 15,000 roots and lost almost all to wild turkeys.
It was that story and others like how they learned the hard way how to tweak their irrigation system to make it more efficient that made me ask the question if the farm produces enough income to provide for their needs. After they finished laughing, I heard their version of the story I have been hearing at every farm I have visited. In short, NO. The Burdettes have a residential window cleaning service that basically pays the bills. Their projected income need from the farm is not very high, but that number is after all the costs that are needed to run the farm, including any repeated plantings because of wildlife destruction.
With some consumer complaints of the higher cost of organic farming, there has to be a strong marketing effort for some consciousness raising to instill a sense of value for healthy local produce in this area. We need to wake up more of the EATERS to switch over to healthier options!
Chris and Leslie Burdette 304-586-2681