It’s a fact: Farming isn’t for the fainthearted. Spending long hours outdoors, dealing with unpredictable weather, and battling incessant weeds and pests requires commitment and hard work. But for some farmers, running a successful, local farm is a childhood dream come true. For Bob Jones, one of the two owners of Newcastle Bee & Berry Farm in Louisa, Virginia, the dream of providing his neighborhood with tasty local strawberries started when he was just eight years old.
With sweet childhood memories of venturing across the street into his aunt’s strawberry patch each spring to steal plump berries straight off the vine, Bob knew early on that he wanted to continue the tradition of having a neighborhood strawberry patch. Decades later, Bob and Newcastle Bee & Berry co-owner Debbie Ryman are still fueled by the desire to share the joys of pick-your-own berry harvesting with the next generation.
SHOULD WE SPRAY? NO WAY!
Though they’ve faced critics who told them they couldn’t succeed without using commercial chemicals, Bob and Debbie recognized that spraying their plants wasn’t an option if they wanted a safe, non-toxic, pick-your-own patch. Citing a need to keep plants, bees, and berry lovers safe from the toxic chemicals found in commercial pesticides, they stood strong in their commitment to a no-spray approach. Thanks to their commitment to their dream, today Newcastle Bee & Berry Farm provides the same safe, sweet berry-picking experience that sparked Bob’s dream so many years ago.
Since Bob’s initial foray into farming back in the mid 80’s, Newcastle has branched out significantly from the original dream of a little local strawberry patch. Currently, they grow a wide array of veggies including corn, asparagus, onions, tomatoes, peppers, beets, turnips, lettuces, garlic, radishes, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Their berry offerings have also expanded beyond strawberries to include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, and even gooseberries. Visitors to Newcastle, which is open most days from 8am to 7pm (call to confirm hours and U-Pick availability!), can also purchase potted plants, flower arrangements, and local honey from the farm.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR NEWCASTLE?
As is the case for many local farms, spreading the word about their diverse offerings is one of Newcastle Bee & Berry’s main challenges. Bob and Debbie are definitely open to test-driving new and unusual crops, but to make the effort worthwhile, they want to know there’s enough demand for what they grow. So they’re focused on finding new ways to connect with the community, local chefs, and RVA foodies to identify what consumers really want. Their partnership with Making It Real is a perfect example, allowing them to showcase their local, organic approach while also receiving feedback on new types of high-demand produce.
Though they’ve already come a long way from a simple strawberry patch, Bob and Debbie aren’t done dreaming yet. Their plans for the future of Newcastle Bee & Berry include adding another high tunnel as well as a 60-foot greenhouse, expanding the blackberry patch to include several more rows, fencing in an area for goats (already on the farm) and cattle (a future addition), and eventually building a barn that will house a cooling room for berries and veggies, a dedicated area for creating flower arrangements, and plenty of space for classes focused on cooking, crafting, canning, and preserving. Both Bob and Debbie would also love to see the farm evolve into a bed and breakfast featuring delicious, homegrown berries for breakfast.
Want to support the dream over at Newcastle Bee & Berry Farm? You can! Gather the kids and grandparents, and plan a family-friendly berry-picking outing, or simply place your weekly order with Making It Real to bring homegrown deliciousness straight to your table.