Brooke County Farmer Grows Flavorful Produce for Heath-Minded Customers
Farmer Provides Produce For Health-Minded Customers
WELLSBURG — Living in the house that once belonged to his grandparents along Windy Hill Road near Windsor Heights in Brooke County, Eric Freeland operates a produce and berry farm that caters to the “health minded” customer who’s looking to support local farmers.
“If people are interested in their health, they are probably interested in where their food comes from and there is a bigger push nationwide and worldwide for that,” said Freeland, who has been farming for nearly 40 years on property that has been in his family since the 1800’s. “We’re growing some great food in some of the richest, most organic soil that is possible to make.”
He said they grow many unique products, mostly berries.
“Most local farmers are not growing berries. They are growing corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, things like that. So we feel there is a market for the high quality berries,” he said. “Within a few hours of us picking it, we are able to get it to the market the same day or the next day.”
Freeland said his target audience is the customer looking for fresh produce that provides for a quick “farm to table” experience.
With the help of a couple part-time workers, Freeland said it is common to work about a 40-hour week throughout the growing season on his eight-acre farm. In the off-season, he has an extensive model train construction business he maintains full-time through the winter season.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but an acre of produce is the equivalent of about probably a hundred acres of putting up hay. … We got an acre that involves thousands upon thousands of man hours to harvest,” he added.
Freeland, who supplies Grow Ohio Valley and other buyers and local farmers markets with berries and other produce is also in the process of constructing a small “store front” structure in front of his farmhouse, complete with a refrigerated and storage area.
“We grow for them (Grow Ohio Valley) and I go to the Ohio Valley Farmers Market at the mall and then I go to the Wheeling Farmers Market on Saturday, plus we sell here,” he explained.
Freeland said he decided to start growing a larger variety of berries and other produce about 10 years ago. He said he often relies on advice from agents and professors with the WVU Extension Service.
In addition to growing varieties of raspberry and blackberry bushes that require several years of cultivating in rich soil before they produce the first berry, Freeland also grows potatoes, beats, cantaloupe and different varieties of tomato plants that were first pioneered and developed by professors at West Virginia University in the 1960s. “Mountaineer Delight” and Mountaineer Pride” are just two of the “West Virginia 63″ variety of tomato plants Freeland currently grows on the farm.
“We are trying to get a following going for these ‘West Virginia’ tomatoes. … There’s a demand to get back to a good tasting tomatoes,” Freeland explained.
Freeland says a large part of the success to his healthy crops is due to the massive efforts he puts into composting tons of grass and wood chips year-round.
“I do a massive amount of composting. That’s what makes my stuff grow,” Freeland explained. “We intermix it and every few weeks we have to turn it over and reoxygenate it . … So this is what you get, a black rich compost.”
In addition, he has installed miles of “tight wire” fencing around the farm to help keep the “critters” from damaging the crops. He said his dog, Brock, a lab-shepherd mix, does a good job at keeping deer away from the crops.
Despite an unusually wet and cooler start to the growing season, Freeland said he has been able to grow his “best” crop yet of berries. While he continues to be busier than ever with trying out new farming methods and growing new varieties of plants, Freeland said providing that rich farm-to-table experience for people is a way of life he continues to be very passionate about.
In addition to growing strawberries along the ground surface, Freeland is also trying out a new rain gutter system of growing strawberries which is supported approximately four feet above the ground by a wooden framework. Each of the four gutters is approximately 50 feet in length.
“That’s just a little novelty to see how they go. We’re getting to be old-timers. How much easier is it to pick at this height,” he explained with a smile.