MARIETTA, Ohio — For the past two decades, the Stacy Family Farm has been both a family and a community affair.
“Bill and I started a U-pick operation with strawberries 20 years ago,” Janet Stacy said. ”We both worked off the farm, and he asked me, if we could find something to replace my paycheck, could we do it?”
Not only did the Stacys dive into growing a new crop, but also a whole new way of growing it.
“In North Carolina, they were using a whole new system — plasticulture strawberries,” Bill said. “Nobody else was doing that around here.”
Originating in California and Florida in the 1960s, plasticulture strawberries were not seriously studied until the early 1980s in North Carolina.
Scientists at North Carolina State University found that the plasticulture method, on raised, plastic mulch-covered beds, offered several advantages over the traditional matted-row system, including larger fruit size, higher yields and a longer picking season.
The Stacys’ strawberry experiment began with a single acre and has now grown to a total of six, with plenty of changes to the original business plan along the way.
The family ethos, however, has remained.
“Ours is a little different in that it’s not commodity oriented,” Bill said. “I kind of started with strawberries with the intention of giving our daughter, Amanda, a good work ethic.”
That, Bill said, ended up working a bit too well.
“She left town,” he said of his daughter, who went on to graduate from law school and is now practicing ag law in the Columbus area.
Meanwhile, Bill and Janet’s son, Todd, graduated from Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute and has returned to Marietta and is working full-time both on and off the farm. A second son, Tyler, is pursuing a career in welding.
The strawberry business is earning its keep as well.
“We started small, but we still worked off the farm,” Janet said. “We didn’t do it overnight; we grew with the demand.”
A face on the farm
Five generations ago, when Albert and Lina Frost Stacy purchased it in 1899, the Stacy Family Farm just outside Marietta, was a dairy and orchard operation. Over the next century, truck crops including sweet corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peppers, and squash became the main source of income at the 135 BF Goodrich Road location.
But few could have predicted the direction the farm would take after Todd wore his work clothes to school one day.
“When he was 6, he wore Carhartt bibs and work boots and was voted ‘coolest kid,’” Bill said.
That moment got the elder Stacy’s wheels turning.
What then started as a field trip to the farm for Todd’s class, grew into the farm’s educational outreach that now hosts up to 2,000 students a year from schools in Ohio and West Virginia.
“We relate (the farm calendar) to their school year,” Janet said of the farm’s curriculum. “And we try to teach to (common) core standards.”
The wide array of programming has included everything from beekeeping to planting a “pizza garden,” Janet said.
“From my point of view, it’s about the kids learning, then educating Mom and Dad,” she said. “People don’t know where food comes from.”
Carrie Ankrom, marketing and events coordinator for the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said hard-working, goal-oriented families like the Stacys, who are passionate about what they do, are few and far between. They are also, Ankrom said, a priceless asset to the community at large.
In 2012, the Stacys purchased the former Ohio Department of Natural Resources state tree nursery, at 27515 state Route 7, moving all the strawberries to the new location and adding 4 acres of blueberries.
The new location now also includes blackberries and raspberries.
The nursery was last operated by the state in 2007 or 2008 and in addition to the great location, it has good, sandy soils and the drainage is good, Bill said, adding that such produce-friendly soil is unique in southeastern Ohio.
“Fruits and vegetables don’t like wet feet and we have a large amount of clay here,” he said.
The Stacys’ new neighbors also rallied behind the family’s effort to buy the property, with the family delivering letters of recommendation from neighbors to the Port Authority as part of their business plan.
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bill said.
The key to the plasticulture method, Bill Stacy said, is the raised beds, which keeps water away and the berries clean. Drip irrigation is used for both water and fertilizer.
“OSU had done some research on plasticulture about 10 or 15 years ago,” Stacy said. “But when I took a trip to North Carolina, I figured if I could do half their yield — now this was 20 years ago — I could break even in Ohio.”
Like most crops, pests remain Stacy’s biggest concern. He estimates an initial investment of about $25,000, but added, “I still use some tractors that are 40 or 50 years old.”
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