Learning to grow through mentoring
by Sally Colby
Although Bobby and Laura Wolfe grew up in agriculture, both ended up in non-ag careers. Today, they’re back to farming and growing their family as they support their community.
The Wolfes’ goal in purchasing their Keezletown, VA, farm was to raise crops and their four children while serving their community. “The Christmas tree part of the farm used to be Evergreen Christmas Tree Farm,” said Laura. “It’s 36 acres and has been in existence for about 50 years. Then we bought the adjacent farm, which was part of my husband’s family farm, so the farm now totals 150 acres.” After the Wolfe family purchased the two farms, they renamed their venture Every Soul Acres. This autumn marks the fifth harvest season for sunflowers, pumpkins and Christmas trees.
Laura said they jumped into farming with two feet and no background in horticulture. “We have a wonderful mentor,” said Laura. She believes in mentoring and coaching for every endeavor. “I have a small-town heart with a big-town mission and enjoy creating a place where people can come to the farm for a wonderful experience.”
In addition to maintaining the Christmas tree U-cut enterprise, the Wolfes added a pumpkin patch and sunflower festival. “We did that immediately the first year of owning and operating the farm,” said Laura. “We love coming up with creative ways to serve our community so people can come in and enjoy one another with quality time. Within six months of buying the farm, our first pumpkin crop was available for harvest.”
Last year, with no cover crop in place from the previous growing season, the Wolfes direct-seeded pumpkins with a no-till drill. They’ve since developed a program that includes planting a variety of seasonal species to limit weeds as they rotate annual crops. “We plant anything from corn for a maze and millet for the cattle to annual grasses and rye,” said Laura. “We’re on a good management plan for rotating crops, keeping weeds at bay and letting the annual crops give back to the soil.”
Pumpkins are ready in mid-September, and families are invited to visit and take time to select just the right pumpkin. Laura enjoys offering a selection of pumpkins, including Jack-o’-Lantern pumpkins for carving as well as unique pumpkins with a variety of textures and shapes. The pumpkin field includes designated areas reserved for field trips and for U-pick. “We also bring pumpkins in for those who can’t go to the field and pick their own,” said Laura, “but the majority who come here are looking for the experience to choose their own in the field.”
The Wolfes planted sunflowers the first year they were on the farm. They established rows of colorful options with ample space for walking paths. “It makes it clean and accessible for customers to walk along and look at the different varieties,” said Laura. “I wanted it to be a true garden experience for people.”
The first year, an acre of sunflowers delighted visitors, and this year, the Wolfes planted 50,000 seeds on about three acres using 10 varieties in colors ranging from dark chocolate to light lemon. “Some are variegated, which are great in bouquets,” said Laura. “We send people out with hand pruners and buckets of water to cut flowers into, then they bring them in and we wrap the flowers in water so they don’t dry out. The added value is what we’d appreciate someone doing for us.”
For each U-pick commodity, the Wolfes provide harvest tools to make sure customers have a pleasant and easy harvest experience. “Most people don’t know what they need, but we do, so we provide everything they need and more to get a great quality product,” said Laura.
Since the farm was familiar to the community as Evergreen Christmas Tree Farm, the Wolfes had a good customer base for Christmas trees. The trees were well-cared for prior to the Wolfes purchasing the property, but the former owner hadn’t continued to plant new trees. The Wolfes have been planting between 3,000 and 4,000 new trees every spring, and the farm is now growing trees at full capacity.
Laura said the former owner of the tree farm is a wealth of knowledge and has been a mentor as they learn about tree care. “The Christmas tree farm was a community staple,” she said. “Simple and straightforward – people came to cut trees – but he hadn’t done agritainment. He’s been mentoring us about watching insect lifecycles, and we’ve been mentoring him about how to provide a fun experience and make memories on the farm,” said Laura. “It’s been a great partnership.”
Customers can select from fields of Concolor, Canaan or Douglas firs, blue or Norway spruces or white pines. “We love the firs,” said Laura, “but we also love being able to use pines for custom garlands and wreaths. It’s nice to have a variety.”
Laura serves on the board of directors for the Virginia Christmas Tree Association and enjoys collaborating with the group to come up with ideas about how to best serve customers. Some board members are in the process of retiring or passing the farm to the next generation and seek new insight from younger growers. Laura said her mission in serving on the board is to partner with as many Virginia growers as possible as she brings other types of trees to the farm.
“Our industry in general is in a challenging spot now, so the more flexible our customers are, the better it is,” said Laura. “There’s demand but we can’t recover overnight. It takes time to get inventory back up. We’ll continue to see several years of limited supply because it’s not just us as retail farms – the wholesale farms don’t have the commodity to supply retail farms. We just say ‘We’re going to provide the very best experience and product to our customers.’ Last year we sold out of pumpkins and Christmas trees in less than two weeks – everyone wanted to be outside in the fresh air and do things that were normal.”
Last year, as they dealt with COVID-19 challenges, the Wolfes welcomed guests to the farm who were happy to enjoy the peaceful outdoor atmosphere. “About 60 to 70 acres of the farm are open for the public,” said Laura. “It’s therapeutic for people to be outdoors.”
Visit Every Soul Acres online at EverySoulAcres.com.