Ripe for the Picking
In the heart of Greenbrier County sits White Oak Farm—a small, pick-your-own-berries farm.
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Both natives of West Virginia, Max grew up in Charleston and lived in other places around the state, while Anne’s family’s roots are in the Renick area, just down the road from White Oak Farm’s current location. The couple met as graduate students at West Virginia University, where she was studying math and agricultural economics, and he had switched from chemistry to horticulture. Max tells the story of when he was working for the university horticulture farm and some raspberry and blueberry bushes were being taken down. He knew Anne would be interested in taking some of the bushes home for re-planting, so he offered, and she accepted. “We spent the afternoon digging up bushes,” he says. And the rest, Anne says, is history.
After the couple married, Max heeded a friend’s advice to steer clear of apple farming, as the popular red fruit is hard to grow, and he started looking into blueberries. Soon, the couple wanted to start a blueberry farm. Max wanted to look in Braxton County where his grandparents were from, and Anne wanted to go home to Greenbrier County. She brought him to Renick. “It didn’t take me long to change my mind. It’s very pretty and very nice here,” he says.
For a year, the newlyweds lived on Anne’s father’s farm and trolled the lands of two or three counties to no avail—they couldn’t find anything in their budget. One morning, driving a neighbor home from church, Max mentioned their interest in a place right next door to the woman’s house that wasn’t for sale. She chuckled and said, “Well, the house next door to me is for sale.” The Robinsons had never noticed, not half a mile down the road from where they’d been living, the farmhouse that sat back off the road. They dropped their neighbor off and headed up the next-door driveway, and sure enough, the man was interested in selling. The 15 acres of land came with a house and had not been farmed, except for cutting a little hay, so it was overgrown. But today, the farmhouse is home to the Robinsons, and the pristine land, most of which is too steep to farm, is home to a huge garden, a milk cow, a few sheep, and chickens. “The kids are a big help,” Anne says. “They help a lot through the summer and throughout the year, with customers, mowing grass, running errands.” Two of their daughters travel to the Lewisburg farmers market to sell berries and jam, which the family has made from one of their own recipes by Yoder’s Country Kettle in Monroe County. “It’s the girls’ own separate thing,” says Max. “A way of earning some money.”
The summer keeps this family busy. Between mowing and maintaining, they help customers, many of whom have been picking on the farm for 10 years or more. “The berries freeze really well, so we have families who will come pick a year’s worth,” Max says. Many of the regulars come once or twice every week, and they often bring new people. Then there are the families with camps along the Greenbrier River and tourists visiting state parks in the area who will come pick berries for a family outing. To accommodate visitors, Max and Anne divide the farm into five sections and pick berries from one area per day to allow for five days of picking. “We will usually have a six or seven week season that way,” Max says. Pricing depends on the crop. Each picker gets a bucket lined with a bag that they can fill and easily pull out for weighing when finished. Charged by the pound, prices can vary depending on if there was a frost and on the size of the crop. Last year, blueberries went for $1.75 a pound and raspberries, which are harder to grow and far more perishable, went for $3 a pound.
Hard work aside, the Robinsons maintain their love of the land. “We both grew up with grandparents who farmed. We both love farming,” Max says. “I would have been a farmer even if I had had to do something else for a living.”
White Oak Farm is generally open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon and 4 to 8 p.m. The farm is closed Wednesday and Sunday. Call or check the website for picking conditions before heading to the farm.