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Bethel Valley Farms: A Berry Grape Place to Visit

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n 2011, Johnnie and Julann James bought a 39-acre farm in the Bethel area outside of Boone, NC. Johnnie, a CPA for 30+ years and cofounder of one of the largest CPA firms in Central Florida, intended to farm the land and leave the corporate world behind. It was clearly a radical departure; not only would the career be much different, but so would the environment and the lifestyle. However, many of Johnnie’s clients were in the agricultural business, so he figured he had an “inside edge” on the business of farming. The James family had discovered the farm site because the couple and their two daughters visited Beech Mountain regularly, and Johnnie had happened upon it one day while biking through the Bethel area. But—I had to ask—why leave a successful accounting career to start a berry farm in North Carolina? After all, Johnnie could have retired to Boca Raton, or sailed the Mediterranean, or hiked Costa Rica. In answer, Johnnie’s eyes lit up and his head tilted back. The corners of his mouth pointed toward the clear, blue skies as his shoulders lifted against the heights of the 4,200-foot mountain behind him. “I am an adventurer,” he said. When Johnnie and Julann bought the property, there was a lot of work to be done. The land had grown thick with vines and weeds and the barn was so dilapidated, it had to be torn down. Clearing the land and building a new barn was the first order of business. Next, Johnnie decided he needed a master plan that

By Mary Goodnight would show details of everything on the property, from the location of each specific plant variety to elevation charts and plotted irrigation lines. “It’s the only way I can stay organized and account for the plants,” he explained. Johnnie hired Derek Goddard of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants to help in this process. Part of the plan included the development of a one-acre pond with an irrigation system that pumps water and fertilizer to the plants throughout the property. As with any new business, and especially a new farm, it’s been a growing process. James knew he wanted to grow berries but he also planted apple and cherry trees. The deer proved to be too much of a nuisance, so James switched to grapes after consulting and partnering with local wine grower and winemaker, Steve Tatum of Grandfather Vineyards and Winery. Today, Bethel Valley Farms produces six varieties of raspberries, five varieties of blueberries, five varieties of blackberries, and three varieties of wine grapes. Partnering is key to success for Bethel Valley Farms, and the range of Johnnie’s cooperative engagements is varied and diverse. Hunters and neighbors help control deer populations when invited; many helped with clearing the land and installing the irrigation system and lines. Johnnie sells his berries at Fred’s General Mercantile on Beech Mountain, and also to Come Back Shack in Boone for their summer berry shakes. He participates in a local farms purchase program with Lowe’s Foods Stores in Banner Elk and

Boone. This year the farm is implementing a U-pick retail business open seven days a week to the general public. In addition to growing grapes for Grandfather Winery, the two businesses are in the testing process for a Raspberry Port and a Blackberry Port. A member of the board of directors for the High Country Wine Growers Association, Johnnie says that a great deal of research and development for Bethel Valley Farms has come from experts at NC State University and Appalachian State University. He has led a team of interested professionals from surrounding counties in the development of a distinctive wine-label brand, “Appalachian High Country.” The Appalachian High Country AVA (American Viticulture Area) application is awaiting approval from the federal government. Johnnie expects the economic impact of this branding will be exponential. This year, the High Country Farm Tour, a program of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, takes place July 18. The Farm Tour was created to support local agriculture, to share knowledge of successful methods and to promote sustainability in the community. New to the tour this year and the first stop for the afternoon leg is Bethel Valley Farms. I asked Johnnie why folks would want to come to his farm, aside from the beautiful landscape and drive. His reply: “The raspberries!” At Bethel Valley Farms, the climate is ideal for growing raspberries. Johnnie explains that raspberries do not do well in hot climates; they need a minimum of 800-1000 chill hours—hours below 45 degrees F—in order to set their fruit. That’s a lot of cool weather, but here in the mountains it’s normal. The farm’s picturesque landscape rolls along ridges to mountain views of 360 degrees, and is located close to Watauga Lake, the Appalachian Trail, The Blue Ridge Mountains, Pisgah National Forest, and the Tennessee/North Carolina border. The High Country Farm tour is a good time to visit Bethel Valley Farms. Also, the berries are ready to pick! For details about the High Country Farm Tour and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture visit http://farmtour.brwia. org/. Bethel Valley Farms is located in Watauga County at 2912 Mountain Dale Road. Go to bethelvalleyfarms. com or visit them on FaceBook. CAROLINA MOUNTAIN LIFE Summer 2015 —

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Carolinamountainlife summer2015  

Regional magazine highlighting the heart and soul of North Carolina's High Country (and neighbors!)

Carolinamountainlife summer2015  

Regional magazine highlighting the heart and soul of North Carolina's High Country (and neighbors!)