It wasn’t the opening it was supposed to have, but after two years in the making, the Eno River Farm officially opened in late March of this year. And although its existence has been muffled by the pandemic, there is excitement about the farm and plans to expand its offerings.
“We’ve had quite the ride since we opened,” said Abbey Thompson, operations and communications manager at Eno River Farm.
The idea of the farm was seeded by Keegan Czesak, whose senior project at Virginia Tech University involved creating a business plan for a farm. Czesak, who majored in Agriculture Technology and Management, socked away the idea until his Uncle Jude Samulski, who lived in Hillsborough, purchased land to preserve it from being developed for residential use. Samulski liked his nephew’s plan for a pick-your-own farm.
Eno River Farm covers about 250 acres. There is a retail store where vendors can set up, an ice cream shop, seating areas and a large greenhouse. Since its opening, it has offered strawberries for people to come out and pick.
“We have just finished our blackberry tunnels,” Thompson said. “Those will be ready for next year. We also have four acres of blueberries. We are growing all of our own flowering plants, like mums and poinsettias, pansies. Anything you see in the retail store from here on out will be grown by us. We have some big plans in the future and we’re hoping to expand that even more.”
Part of that expansion will include adding a peach orchard, growing squash, tomatoes, zucchini and water melons.
“One of the fun things to watch about Keegan is that he loves agriculture,” Thompson said. “He loves seeing if he can do it. If you hand him a plant, he’s going to do everything he can to see if he can grow it.”
Eno River Farm has three full-time staff members. Depending on the season, the farm expects to employ an average of 10 to 20 people, and up to 50 people during peak strawberry season.
“We do a little bit of wholesaling as well,” Thompson said. “We’re hoping to expand that, however, in our first year we’re kind of easing into it. We have a great relationship with Steve’s Garden Market and Butchery.”
Thompson added the staff at Eno River Farm is excited about making connections to sell its locally grown goods throughout Hillsborough.
Thompson said that opening in late March enabled the farm to better prepare itself for establishing a safe environment for staff, vendors and customers during COVID times.
“Having never been opened before, in some ways we were handed a gift because it pushed us to be better and pushed us to be safer and smarter and made us confront our values,” Thompson said.
“Keegan made it a priority to focus on how we could keep the community safe,” she said. “We looked at precautions, got creative with signs, and how we talk with people about the virus. I like to think we did a really good job. While we were winding down our strawberry season, we were actually contacted by the Canadian Department of Agriculture — their strawberry season is later than ours — they wanted to know how we kept people safe during the pick-your-own season. We came up with creative solutions and it worked.”
Thompson said Eno River Farm has been well-received by the community. “I don’t think we could have asked for a better community of which to be a part. They know we’re doing the best we can. People respond to that.”