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Posted July 24, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

A thriving business

Woodstock organic berry farmer finds fun, success in his retirement

By Katie Demeria

WOODSTOCK -- Weeding is a hefty process at Jerry's Gourmet Berries.

The farm has organic certification, so owner Jerry Fields has only his own hands and the help of his two employees to keep his hundreds of berry bushes weed free.

Fields received the certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture three years ago. His farm started as a hobby, and he had inclinations to open a winery, but he decided to go entirely organic instead.

The decision has worked out well for him.

Fields has taken advantage of the demand for organic fruits and vegetables in the Northern Virginia area, attending farmers markets various times a week to provide his variety of fruits.

"People love choosing from different colors," Fields said. "They sell. And restaurants have been using them to make unusual desserts now, too."

Local residents who want to take advantage of this year's strong berry crop will have a chance this Saturday. Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park is hosting a Blackberry Delight Event, featuring various blackberry-inspired food and some local entertainment.

The park is known for the blackberries, which can be found among the trails, a news release stated, and visitors are encouraged to celebrate the fruit with a little history, as well.

Jerry's Gourmet Berries sports a variety of berries to choose from, including the average blueberry and strawberry, as well as what Fields refers to as his "experimental berries," like elderberries and currants.

He stays ahead of the berry game, as well, and has a new variety of blueberry, called pink blueberries, that are sweeter and less acidic than their blue counterparts.

"I've always been concerned about the food supply," Fields said of his decision to go organic. "There's something wrong with our food source. You've got to be careful."

Fields is intimately familiar with the health benefits of berries, as well. They are high in antioxidants, and he even has a strong crop of aronia berries.

"They're the berry of the future," he said.

Aronia berries have the highest ORAC -- oxygen reduced absorption capacity -- possible, according to Fields.

Blueberries have an ORAC level of 3,000. The aronia's level is 17,000.

He sells his aronia juice at farmers markets, and said it flies off the shelves when he explains the nutritional benefit.

Fields spends most of his time at farmers markets in Northern Virginia because he has found the local area does not have the same demand for organic produce.

But he has expanded his business to include deliveries, and will deliver berries anywhere between Harrisonburg and Winchester.

He has plans to expand, as well -- he recently received grants from the Department of Agriculture to create a pump system from his homemade pond, and another to create a greenhouse. He also has an organic certified farm in another area of Woodstock where he has a farmer grow vegetables, and hopes another farmer will start with him sometime soon, as well.

"I have a lot of fun," Fields, who is retired, said.

To find out more about Jerry's Gourmet Berries, visit http://jerrysgourmetberries.com.

The Skyland Resort berry celebration will take place at the 41.7 mile of Skyline Drive from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com


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