by Laura Johnson
Jeanne and Wayne Berry of A Berry Patch Farm like to tell people how they first decided to grow organically. “We had a little small home garden 40 years ago,” Wayne recalled. “I tried to grow carrots, and we were sitting at the dinner table and I was griping because the carrots just weren’t growing well.”
No, their 5-year-old daughter disagreed; she’d been eating them every day on her way home from school. “And I had sprayed with (an insecticide) that day,” Wayne said with a dismayed laugh. “And that was the last day I ever used it.”
Now with more than 20 grandchildren, the Berrys are concerned about the health of young people. “Those chemicals I think are extremely bad, particularly as they go through a young person’s body,” Jeanne said. “I think the chemicals can do real damage in their later years.”
“I’d rather lose a few vegetables than use a lot of insecticides,” Wayne agreed. He applies this principle to the “niche” produce he and Jeanne grow on two acres of their four-and-a-half acre property in West Jefferson, where they’ve lived for the last 10 years.
Beginning with a garden for home use, as they’d done almost always in the past, they soon had enough surplus that they decided to sell at the Ashe County Farmers’ Market. Today they offer things like arugula, salad and greens mixes, honey, unusual cucumbers and special varieties of squash and peppers. Certified organic since 2006, they also provide specialty produce to the New River Organic Growers (NROG) cooperative.
Viewing the market as a good place to meet people and make connections while also bringing in income, Jeanne and Wayne love to introduce people to new foods and to teach them to grow it. “People love buying our German Hardneck garlic,” Jeanne gave as an example. “They love the taste of it and they love adding it to their food, and they come back and say how can we grow this?
“So we put together a little sheet on how to grow garlic in the mountains. And so that has shown people how to do it, and they come back and say, ‘Wow my garlic’s to the garlic scapes,’ or ‘I’m to the green garlic now.’
“We are friendly, and we like people to know that,” Jeanne added.
They spread their agricultural knowledge to local youth through on-farm jobs as well. Some have stayed with them through their high school graduation; earning a small income, they also learn self-reliance and the value of hard work, Wayne said.
Their second year on the Farm Tour, the Berrys are excited to showcase their specialty organic produce, their “gutter gardens,” their high tunnel and greenhouse and, most of all, the fact that visitors can do this in their own backyard.
“The biggest thing is that hopefully they can get an idea of what they can do on a small scale,” Wayne said. “So you know, it’s another way of reaching out to the community.”