The Gibsonville, NC farm began in 1982 when my wife Nan and I (Rick Langhorne) planted two acres of Thornless Blackberries and and two acres of Rabbiteye Blueberries. A few years later we planted several acres of Asparagus. These crops were selected based on budgets provided by the local Extension Agent combined with what we liked and what we thought would be a good opportunity. The fact that no other growers in our area were growing what we intended to grow was an important consideration. This was our first attempt at commercial agriculture so we made the normal new grower type mistakes. We selected planting stock on the basis of price rather than quality, we planted before the irrigation system was ready, and we made no preparations for weed control. Unfortunately, a huge drought occurred the first summer after planting and plant losses were high, especially on the inferior quality Blackberry plants. Blueberry growth was anemic as a result of the rotten sawdust that was placed in the planting holes which had an abnormally high PH, exactly the opposite of what was needed.
Old Farm LogoOver the next several years, irrigation and weed control problems were solved, dead plants were replaced with higher quality planting material and the PH problem in the Blueberries was corrected. Plant growth was impressive especially on the Blueberries which were attracting huge numbers of birds. We had not planned for bird control which required us to roll out a net which consisted of eight runs of netting each 1000 foot long and 20 feet wide each summer and retract every fall. Yields on both Blueberries and Blackberries began to exceed our expectations and it became clear that the financial success of the farm depended on our ability to sell what we had learned to grow. How do you sell 30,000 pounds of Blackberries and 15, 000 pounds of Blueberries over the course of just a five week growing period? Also, what other crops do customers want to purchase and how much were they willing to pay? During the next few years we tested our ability to expand into annual crops like Broccoli, Cauliflower, Corn and Tomatoes as well as a Raspberry variety suggested by a well known plant breeder at NC State University.
Old Blueberry Hill Farm SignFrom these experiments we determined that we preferred to focus our energy on growing fairly large quantities of superior quality perennial crops rather than growing dozens of different vegetables that had to be replanted each year. Our strategy was just the opposite of what other growers were doing, but it was right for our situation. Our produce was initially sold pick-your-own directly from the farm, and later from the Carrboro Farmer's Market. We knew our strategy of growing larger quantities of just a few items was working when a member of board of directors at the Farmer's Market dropped by our farm to investigate if we really grew the Raspberries, Blackberries and Blueberries we were selling! Apparently other growers were intimated by our ability to grow and market superior quality fruit in fairly large quantities. About this time we started to replace older varieties with new improved variety. The USDA thornless blackberry we had planted on 1982 were replaced with several firmer and sweeter Blackberry varieties introduced by the University of Arkansas. Southern Highbush Blueberries and improved Hybrid variety of Asparagus were also added to the product mix. Improvements were made to the retail market on the farm and a walk in cooler was added. At the peak of production the Langhorne's sold from their retail farm stand, three Farmers markets on Saturday and sold wholesale to various restaurants and Supermarkets.
The amount of work required to generate just a moderate income by selling produce was almost overwhelming. The farm fell short of our naive financial expectations, yet the farm provided a "real world classroom" for our kids and its positive impacts were huge. They learned the value of hard work and that positive results come in direct proportion to the amount of effort. Each son learned to handle money and could make proper change by the first grade. They enjoyed interacting with the customers at the farm and at the Farmer's market. The many lessons provided by the farm experience became an important component in the growth and development of our family. It also became clear to us that our sons' interests in community sports conflicted seriously with our selling opportunities. We made the decision to set our farm interests aside and spend years having great fun watching our sons grow up to fine young men.
The farm was dormant for many years. Several years ago we began planning for and implementing a new farm plan that will carry us through our retirement years. We have removed all of the old crops and planted new crops and some new varieties. In addition to the Blueberries and Blackberries we have grown for years, we added Apples and Flowers to our product mix. We also have Peaches that will soon be in production. All of the new crop selections feature the best variety available based on our research and our experience. These "best of breed" crops we will be offering include a 500 year old heritage Apple variety, Summer Rambour, from France; an improved variety of Blackberry, Natchez, from the University of Arkansas; a superior but established variety, Premier Blueberry, from NCSU; Limelight Hydrangeas and patented varieties of coneflowers we grow.
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