Bealeton farmer uses state and federal grants to extend his growing seasons
Raspberries grew untilDec 8 last year for Bealeton farmer Rick Crofford thanks to his VSU-funded hoop house. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Jay Pinsky
Come Thanksgiving if you have a craving for fresh, local raspberries, go visit Bealeton's Rick Crofford because he'll have them.
The self-proclaimed hobby farmer has several rows of blooming raspberry bushes in one of two hoop houses on his seven-acre property on Tackett's Lane.
"Last year I had raspberries all the way until Dec 8," said Crofford, who works full time as the environmental district manager for VDOT Culpeper.
The main reason Crofford stopped picking them, he said, was that bees stopped pollinating and the temperatures got too low in the unheated structures.
Hoop houses, by the way, are slightly different from green houses, according to the trained eye of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Roger Flint.
Flint calls what Crofford has "Hi Tunnels."
"Hoop houses are more of a temporary structure that can be taken down for the winter," said Flint. "Plants are planted directly into the soil. Green houses are a more permanent structure usually with heat, and shelving for plants."
While hoop houses aren't a new invention, the fact that Crofford has two of them in his backyard free of charge might get some farmers' attention.
The first hoop house, which measures 26 feet by 45 feet, was donated by Virginia State University, and the second, a little larger at 30 feet by 64 feet, by NRCS.
According to Flint, NRCS helped with "Hi Tunnels" in order to improve soil and plant quality, to help provide fresh gardens products locally, and to reduce fertilizer, and pesticide use.
Flint said NRCS provides funding for the the Hi –Tunnel’s installation for existing commercial growers.
Still, the point of having hoop houses and green houses are the same, they help extend the growing seasons for farmers.
"Hoop houses take a lot of stress out of farming," said Crofford. "If I had a hammock and a T.V., I'd live in here."
Crofford said the structures help overcome the weather and the seasonal temperature changes.
"When it was raining and the farmer's couldn't plow their fields I was in here with my tiller," said Crofford.
The real benefit said Crofford is that he gets to extend his growing seasons.
His wife, Corinna, noticed the change in her husband's farming harvests once the first hoop house was erected.
"Once he had that hoop house up," Corinna said, " we had raspberries all the time – and I mean all the time."
Having produce nearly year-around is one of the main goals for Crofford who said he got into hobby farming because he went to the grocery store and decided he could just grow what he was getting there and it would be fresher, and tastier.
"I'm hoping with this second hoop house, we'll be able to eat year around," said Crofford.
Crofford, who grew up in Ohio on a dairy farm, said he has always had gardens.
"I've always liked playing in the dirt and getting something out of it," said Crofford. "It's nice when your hobby pays you back."
Crofford isn't just talking about having fresh produce either, the green-thumbed hobbyist has done well for himself since he started and last year grossed nearly $8000 from his hobby farm.
In fact, Crofford said the main reason he expanded his garden into a hobby farm was as a way to help raise money for his four children's college education with a 529 savings plan, which is named after the Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created special savings plans beginning in 1996 so a state or educational institution can help families pay for school.
His oldest one, Kirsten, starts her freshman year at Virginia Tech University this year.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.
Get Headlines Every Tuesday and Thursday By Email