Strawberries with Row Covers for Frost Protection
IPM is safe for all
Agriberry Farm Loves It's Pollinators
Winter Pruning for Field Health and Vitality

Farm Practices for Good Stewardship

The Geyers are proud to grow 100% safe, nutritious, and delicious food. Further, they understand the responsibility they carry for providing safe food, for providing a safe workplace for their employees, and for protecting their land, waterways and the diverse community of pollinators and resident wildlife with which they share their fields. They use a balance of the best practices available to grow the healthiest, highest quality fruit with the least possible impact on the environment.

What Is IPM?

The Geyers use Integrated Pest Management at Agriberry Farm. IPM is a modern farming philosophy of combining cultural, biological and chemical interventions to reduce crop damage. Whether Farmer Chuck is running the sprinklers to keep the strawberry blooms from freezing during a cold snap, or applying a fungicide to prevent molds and mildew, the mindset for the farm is that preventative plant care, including careful pruning, trellising and healthy soils foster healthy plants, and that healthy plants require the minimum amount of intervention. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves:

  • Identifying specific pests and habits to carefully target control measures for greatest effectiveness.
  • Using comprehensive information about the life cycles of identified insects and diseases affecting the fields.
  • Seeking the path of least risk for all interventions to reduce or eliminate possible adverse impacts.

What Are Pests?

In farming terms, a “pest” can be anything that might reduce a harvest. These crop threats include weather, such as late frosts after early warming, or excessive rain, humidity or heat, or foraging wildlife, or molds, or invasive weeds and, of course, insects. Each warrants a specific management strategy, which must be implemented in concert with all the other management strategies in play. These overlapping strategies are supported by scouting information from the fields, along with the best available information about weather prediction and pest development models, to enable the most effective opportunity for intervention.

Cultural IPM

Cultural IPM refers to how we farm and harvest. Some examples of Cultural IPM cover the “basics” required to grow the most robust plants and trees possible, such as full sunlight, well nourished soil, and adequate water, and selecting plants types and varieties that will tolerate the existing soil and temperature conditions. Modern specialty crop farming embraces the understanding that healthy plants are more likely to be able to withstand the challenges posed by pests, so that’s the first line of defense.

Agriberry Farm has installed an underground irrigation system throughout it’s fields. This regulated irrigation system helps ensure that the plants receive the even supply of water they need to stay healthy and minimizes the potential for wasted water. The underground system also delivers the blend of nutrients (known as “fertigation”) that the plants need to thrive.

The trellising system and pruning techniques used throughout the farm means the plants and trees get the maximum amount of sunlight and airflow, boosting fruit development and reducing the risk of disease. Other tools for encouraging healthy soil and plants include many traditional “organic” farming practices, such as cover cropping and green mulching. Another example of cultural IPM is sterilizing all pruning tools when moving from one plant or tree to another to minimize the risk of spreading disease from one plant to another.

Biological IPM

Biological interventions require a deep understanding of the lifecycles of specific pests, and using “Mother Nature’s” tools to help control or discourage a pest. For example, reproducing the female sex pheromone of some insect pests can “confuse” the males so they never find a mate, thereby controlling future generations without the use of pesticides. Another well known example is using “good bugs” such as Lady Bugs to work against “bad bugs” such as Aphids.

Chemical IPM

The application of pesticides and fungicides are an integral part of any IPM program. This requires having experience and expertise required to know exactly what to use–and at exactly what point in a pest’s lifecycle–to kill only the targeted pest, while keeping all the beneficial insects in the fields safe. Based on training and research, the Geyers know that the fruit they bring to market is 100% safe and healthy, despite any concerns that may be perpetuated by misinformation and misunderstanding.

Is Agriberry Farm “Organic?”

While Agriberry Farm is not Certified Organic, it uses many organic practices, and the fruit produced is 100% safe and nutritious. You are encouraged to visit the farm and fields during the Open Farm Visits to see the vibrant community of flora and fauna at home in the fields.

What Does Organic Certification Actually Means?

There’s a lot of information and misinformation about what “Certified Organic” actually means. Many consumers believe that “Organic” means the same as “No Spray,” but that’s not true: sprays are permitted but are limited to an approved list. While some synthetic substances are prohibited by Organic guidelines, many are actually permitted, along with a host of “natural” substances that are available for use by Organic farms.

While we’re not knocking anyone’s practices or buying choices, we feel that the question, “Are you Organic?” deserves more than just a one-word answer. Want to learn a little more about what the Organic label really means? Here’s a great article from back in 2011 in Scientific American that still holds true today.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for being willing to think a little more deeply about the complexities of our food systems.

Staying Committed to IPM

Certified Organic production is very popular in today’s marketplace, but it is not necessarily a safer, healthier, or more environmentally friendly method of fruit production. The Geyers firmly believe that being an IPM Grower and making use of ALL the crop protection resources available is the best option for their farm and community. Because some of the most effective IPM sprays do not qualify for use by organic standards, organic producers may need to use larger amounts of other non-synthetic sprays to try to control the same pests that IPM growers are able to control with their integrated approach.

With that philosophical distinction aside, as a consumer, you can feel confident that all the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. today are safe for you and your family to consume. The far larger concern is that only about 1 in 10 Americans today eat even the minimum recommended amount of fruit per day.

Ready for a little more information? Check out this article from the Alliance for Food Safety, offering “A Dozen More Reasons to Eat Fruits and Veggies.” We love that their bottom line is that whether conventionally grown or Certified Organic, the fruits and vegetables available to U.S. consumers today are safe. Further, the article confirms the mounting research that shows that eating four or more servings of berries, fruits and vegetables per day is proven to help you live a longer, healthier and happier life, and that seven or more servings is closer to the optimum. Why not make life just a little bit sweeter by having several of those servings of your favorite berries and fruit come from Agriberry Farm?

Where Would We Bee Without Our Pollinators?

We hope we’ll never have to find out! In addition to our hives of European honeybees, our fields are home to myriad native pollinators, including many other types of native bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects. One factor that makes the Agriberry Farm fields such a haven for pollinators is the diversity of plantings, surrounded by native woodlands.

Filling the GAP

In 2016 Agriberry Farm was awarded full accreditation in accordance with the USDA’s new Good Agricultural Practices program, developed to help ensure that food produced on U.S. farms is safely handled and traceable from the farm of origin all the way to the consumer. The farm gets re-certified each year in the fall.

As part of continuing efforts to improve farm practices and to ensure that we adhere to the highest possible standards for food safety, please check with your market staff to learn more about what containers can be safely re-used by the farm.

Strawberry Magic

One of the most frequently asked questions at our markets is, “How long will you have strawberries?” Among farmers, strawberries are considered to be one of the most finicky fruits to grow, partially because they are so sensitive to temperature variations. Among customers, strawberries are considered by many area fans to be their absolute favorite of the year. Our market tables are never busier than when strawberries are in season.

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional peak of the Central Virginia strawberry harvest, but warmer or colder winter and early spring conditions can shift the peak up or back. Our best advice regarding timing your strawberry purchases is that if you see (and smell!) good strawberries at market, you should grab them, because you never know what the coming days or weeks will bring.

As examples of how widely the seasonal norms can vary, in 2017 we brought our first strawberries to market in late March and were still going strong deep into July. An unusual combination of record-mild January and February temperatures, followed by a cooler-than-usual spring made for the longest strawberry harvest in Anne and Chuck’s 30+ years of growing experience. In contrast, during the “Polar Vortex” season of 2015, we didn’t even begin our harvest until May, and we were done harvesting in mid-June, thanks to the early stress on the plants plus several days of high heat in early May that stopped the plants from blooming.

That said, Agriberry Farm will bring strawberries to market earlier and keep them coming longer than most other farms in the area, which causes some to wonder if the strawberries we bring to market are “legit.” Absolutely, they are. Without giving away the family’s Secret Sauce, here are we a few of the investments that Anne and Chuck make each year to help extend their ability to bring you more of America’s favorite berry each season:

  • Early Planting: They plant their young strawberry plants in the fall, allowing the plants to develop strong root systems before the spring surge.
  • Varietal Diversity: They plant a variety of plants to take advantage of a variety of harvest conditions, including an “ever bearing” variety, which continues blooming deep into the summer season.
  • Row Covers: Unlike many growers, they take the expensive and labor-intensive step of covering the plants in the field to protect them from the deep cold of winter. This keeps the plants healthy and protected. Once the worst of the cold is past, the covers are removed. If unexpectedly cold weather returns, we have to put them back on again, resulting in hours and hours of labor to keep the plants safe. This protection gives the plants a jump start, however, which enables them to bud, begin blooming, and set fruit ahead of seasonal norms for unprotected field grown plants.
  • Research: In consultation with Partner Farmer Aaron Goode of Chesterfield Berry Farm, Anne and Chuck work closely with the top nurseries to keep tabs on promising new varieties.
  • Education: During the off-season Anne and Chuck attend key conferences and grower’s meetings to keep up-to-date about new growing practices.

We hope you enjoy the fruits of their labor!