Business still thriving: Sons carry on late father’s vision at Swift Creek Berry Farm
David Goode isn’t sure exactly when he and his younger brother started working the land at Swift Creek Berry Farm and Greenhouse – but it’s been as long as he can remember. Jonathan, 40, says he thinks he was maybe 5 years old planting blueberries with David and his father.
“We’ve been doing this all our lives,” says David, now 45. “We grew up in this house right there,” he says, pointing to a beautiful blue structure nestled behind green space dotted with dogwood trees and picnic tables, all adjacent to the company’s seven greenhouses and several acres blueberries at 17210 Genito Road in Mosley.
“I live on this dirt road and [Jonathan] lives on the other farm,” he says, meaning the original farm about a quarter mile up the road. This is where much of the season’s harvest will be picked by the public in June and sits on land that has been farmed by the family for over a century.
Since the 1980s, Swift Creek has been a mainstay – as well as a wholesale distributor – in the community, but it wasn’t until last winter that the brothers inherited the business after their father passed away in November. ; now the family enters the first summer without Clyde, whose vision of the land she brought to fruition through the seasons.
“At first it was difficult,” says Jonathan, “but at the same time just being here, everything I see, do and touch reminds me of him, so it’s always good, d positive thoughts about things, but it’s definitely a challenge and a journey for us to keep it all going.
Decades ago when Clyde inherited the property, there were wild blueberries in abundance which made him think the soil would lend itself to domesticated varieties, Jonathan explained. His father started planting the first field of shrubs around 1985, and in the 1990s it expanded to include a greenhouse – which started out as “a little one to start vegetable seedlings” – before he does not feel the need for the local community to have its own wholesale business. flower distributor.
Now the farm boasts 12 acres of blueberry plants, 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space between three heated greenhouses and four small cold frames, pumpkins in the fall and firewood in the winter. The business is run by the brothers and employee Anne Fisher, who has worked for them for five or six years. On a sunny day last week, their mother, Kathy, tended to customers – many of whom have been loyal to the berry farm for years – amidst hundreds of flowers for sale, a leash in hand for Dakota, the mutt of the family.
And while there’s “nothing flashy,” there’s certainly a lot going on throughout the year. In addition to distribution, staff are available to help with landscaping and gardening, organize small events and fundraisers, and when blueberry season begins in June through this summer, school children will come visit. during field trips. “And being Naturally Grown certified, our fruit is clean so the kids can eat and enjoy while they’re out there picking,” David laughs, “It’s really the same with all of our customers, I mean, many of our clients show up with purple teeth.
As long as the family is in business, there are still uncertainties, and this is the season for them. The first year of COVID-19, 2020, temperatures dropped to the mid-20s on May 10 and the farm lost its entire blueberry crop.
“All the fields were full of green berries, and they instantly turned dark purple and black and fell from the bushes and we didn’t have a single berry,” Jonathan recalls. “It was probably one of the worst as far as I can remember here – there were times when we lost our first early varieties, and the last ones came, but this one, they got it all. .”
The first months of spring also require special attention to the thousands of flowers offering a spectrum of colors. The night before, the brothers and Fisher had to bring hundreds of plants indoors in preparation for a major drop in temperature.
The flowers all start from seed in plug-in trays that are potted and grown in the greenhouses before inventory is released for sale in myriad hanging baskets for sale to the public, as well as local businesses that include Southern States, Sneed’s Nursery and Good Foods. Grocery store.
But COVID has also impacted the business in a “strangely positive” way. The family set up an online store for curbside pickup, which they still use. The method is handy for people who just want firewood or a jar of honey – Swift Creek offers Mountain House Apiaries varieties from Midlothian from their beekeeper, Chuck Burden, to include a special blueberry blossom honey you won’t find nowhere else.
“So we learned how to tweak our business, and that kind of helped,” David Goode said. “We didn’t have to shut down anything – and I think, being out here in the open, people found it as an opportunity to take the mask off.”
And yet other, albeit more ambiguous, uncertainties loom on the horizon. February data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows a loss of 800 farms and 100,000 acres of farmland in Virginia last year, and the brothers both wink at the role of development.
David explains that, for many, the second generation isn’t necessarily interested in continuing the job – a sentiment that simply doesn’t apply to David and Jonathan, who went to college to earn degrees in business management. parks and criminal justice, but found themselves unable to separate themselves from what they did growing up.
“My body aches every day from doing things here, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Jonathan said with a good-natured smile before jumping into a truck loaded with flowers to hand out last week. .
Then there are big dollars attached to the price of development — something some farmers can’t afford to turn down — but that, again, doesn’t apply to the Goodes. Jonathan notes that while the explosive growth in their area of the county has its benefits, there are talks of other projects, such as proposed extensions to Powhite Drive, that could directly affect the land.
“We’re here to stay,” David said, sitting out in the afternoon sun. “We’ve been here for over 100 years as a family farming the land, and my father has continued that, and we’ll carry on that tradition.” ¦