FREDERICKTOWN, Ohio — What began as a family hobby has grown into a prolific business for a Knox County couple.
Dan and Ann Trudel have always enjoyed raspberries and raspberry jam, in fact Ann has been picking berries and making jam for at least 20 years.
But the Trudels hobby shifted gears seven years ago, when they bought a five-acre rural property outside of Fredericktown, in the midst of Amish country.
Growing berries was something they always wanted to do, but was very new to them.
Dan Trudel grew up in Montreal, Canada, and is a market researcher. Ann was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.
“We didn’t have any experience in doing this and it’s not like we had this grand vision,” Dan Trudel said. “Really, the vision was just to have a u-pick and the home berries so that she could make jam.”
But the berries grew, and so did the types and quality of jam they made. The named the farm Ann’s Raspberry Farm and started selling some of their product at the farmers market in Mount Vernon, and today, they sell at six different farmers markets in central Ohio.
“Obviously, being beginners in all of this, we made a lot of mistakes,” Dan Trudel said.
But they learned from their mistakes, and how to seek insight from other producers and educational programs, and they relied on information from their local Ohio State University extension office.
But the biggest help, they said, was a beginning farmers program sponsored by Innovative Farmers of Ohio, called Wisdom in the Land. The program included farming workshops and also helped the Trudels hook up with a mentor producer from Athens.
The training, and the support from other producers and the local Amish, is what’s made the difference.
“We owe a great deal of where we are because of the inspiration, the support and the technical system that IFO provided,” Dan Trudel said. “It’s hard to say if we would be here if it hadn’t been for that.”
Learning from others
Ann Trudel said working with other growers helped them to learn they were not alone, and that all producers are still learning.
“It was a good feeling to know that nobody had all the answers,” she said. “It was good to know that we weren’t necessarily doing anything wrong, it was a growing thing.”
One of their first problems was starting too big. At first, they had more plants than they could manage, and insects and weeds quickly became an issue.
But they’ve learned over the years how to better manage pests, and with no herbicides or chemical pesticides. The farm is part of the Certified Naturally Grown program, and is held to those standards.
They admit it would be much easier and quicker to control insects and weeds with conventional products. But so far, they’ve resisted.
“It’s not that we’re against conventional (products), because we understand why those chemicals have been invented,” Ann Trudel said.
Their reason is to maintain Certified Naturally Grown status, and more importantly, because raspberries cannot be washed without ruining them. Unlike other fruits, if a customer wanted to wash off the chemicals before eating it, the raspberry would likely be ruined because it is so delicate.
“Conventional farming is so much easier,” Dan Trudel said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s so much easier.”
A big lesson he and his wife have learned is you have to be committed to be a farmer.
“It’s the commitment that makes it happen,” he said.
Their 12-year-old daughter, Allison, helps with canning and working at farmers markets. Their 18-year-old son, Eric, helps when he’s available.
The Trudels aren’t just known in their neighborhood. They received national recognition in January, when they received two Alice Waters’ Good Food Awards for their jalapeno raspberry jam, and savory Brussels sprouts relish.
They recently erected their first greenhouse and are enjoying the benefits of raising raspberries in a controlled environment. They estimate the greenhouse is extending the growing season by about a month in the spring and the fall.
But it also brings new responsibilities. On a recent Sunday morning, they found out how hot it can get if the curtains aren’t raised. In only a few hours, the temperatures reached 120 degrees and some of the leaves were burned.
“It’s a constant maintenance,” Dan Trudel said. “These plants, because they are covered, are dependent upon you a lot more.”
The Trudels hope to erect additional greenhouses in the near future. But they’re working on a cash-flow basis — without loans — and said they want to see how their first greenhouse turns out before adding more.
They average about 1,000 pounds of Brussels sprouts in a good year, and many more raspberries. It’s a lot of work, but it pays for itself in the end.
Dan Trudel said he enjoys selling the family’s produce at farmers markets, because of the closeness he and Ann have with the customers. They can look face-to-face at the people who eat what they grow, and to the Trudels, that matters.
“What’s really rewarding, is to see peoples’ reaction,” Dan Trudel said.
The very best are the ones who taste it and say “mmmm, mmmm” twice, he said. “That’s what fills us up for the rest of the week.”
For more information about Ann’s Raspberry Farm, visit their website here.