Strawberry patch embraces organic angle

Wise Acres is a work in progress for Robb and Cathy Thorstenson. Today, strawberries. Tomorrow… who knows?

The couple and their four children fled the cold of Minnesota and Chicago for the (usually) warm weather of Indian Trail, purchasing 40 acres at 4701 Hartis Road near Interstate 485 in March 2013 and working to overhaul the land to turn it into the organic farm it has now become.

“We’re chasing our dream,” Robb Thorstenson said of giving up careers in business and finance to become farmers. “We were tired of the winters and wanted a warmer climate. We’re loving it down here in North Carolina.”

The dream has now grown from a hobby farm to what the couple owns today – with an entire acre set aside for organically grown strawberries in addition to test plots soon to make way to fruits and vegetables like blueberries, blackberries, asparagus, kale and tomatoes, assuming the land will support the plantings.

But that’s all later down the road. Today, it’s strawberry season.

Strawberries are $2.99 per pound if people pick them themselves or $3.69 per pound pre-picked. Thorstenson said now is the perfect time to pick, as the strawberries are at their ripest and likely to go fast.

The organic option is something the family believes in, and something Thorstenson said is unique to the area. He regularly attends strawberry conventions, where he learned about the chemicals some farmers use on their plants. Strawberries, he said, are No. 2 on the “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables that get sprayed with the most pesticides – chemicals Thorstenson wants to stay away from.

“I don’t want that,” he said. “Our family is eventually going to live on the farm, and I didn’t want to expose them to” the chemicals or let the chemicals get into the ground water. “We want to be responsible neighbors and business owners.”

The farm is moving toward USDA organic certification – a process that takes three years to complete and requires developing an organic systems plan that includes crop rotation, detailed record keeping and third-party monitoring to make sure the farm is compliant with current organic standards. Thorstenson calls his farm “organically grown and on the way to becoming organically certified.”

One example of the organic method is dealing with frost. The harsh, long winter this season was especially hard for Thorstenson, who had to constantly pull and push row covers over the strawberry plants. Conventional farmers use overhead irrigation to deter frost damage. But, the overhead sprinklers cause constant moisture and promotes Botrytis or gray mold. So, to deter both gray mold and frost, Thorstenson kept the fields as dry as he could. That hard work paid off and Thorstenson said he now has fantastic strawberries.

In addition to the strawberries, Wise Acres has an obstacle course, a tire playground and chickens anyone can feed. The Thorstensons also are planning on having pumpkins and hay rides in the fall.

Wise Acres is open Tuesday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find more information at www.wiseacresorganic.com or www.facebook.com/wiseacresnc, or call 704-628-6232.

 

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