Old houses aren’t the only “fixer-uppers” out there. Just ask longtime Asheville musician and radio host Laura Blackley, who purchased neglected land in Candler with her partner, Cindy Jordan, in 2006. Their hope? A small family farm.
“When we started, we wanted to do and grow everything, and I do mean everything,” says Blackley. But they quickly realized there was plenty of fixing to do before any growing could happen.
“I hate that we don’t have any ‘before’ pictures of when we first bought the place,” Blackley says. “It took a lot of work to turn it around. It had been left untended for several years, and all the beds and yard were overgrown.” While cleaning and clearing, Blackley noticed a small stand of raspberries and another of blackberries on the property. She instantly fell in love with tending the bushes; pretty soon, the two small stands became 150 berry plants. Around the same time, Jordan placed a couple of beehives on the northeast corner of the property and was immediately hooked with the hives.
Today, berries and honey are Jordan Blackley Farm’s primary products. “Over time, we learned that — to preserve our sanity — it would be wise to do one or two things, instead of trying to branch out too quickly,” Blackley says. As a testament to how well they’ve done those two things over the past couple of years, their Certified Naturally Grown and Appalachian Grown honey took home a blue ribbon from the N.C. State Beekeeper’s Meeting in 2010.
With all the fixing-up behind them, they’ve even been able to expand, growing their berries into a pick-your-own operation that also includes blackberries and black raspberries. In addition, they offer free-range eggs, as well as short or long-term on-farm cabin rentals.
“We both feel more confident with how far the farm has come,” Blackley says. That, she says, played a role in her and Jordan’s decision to be part of the recent Family Farm Tour hosted by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. They joined 17 other farms new to the tour this year. “We’ve had time to make plenty of mistakes and learn from them accordingly, which has helped us deepen our understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and to be able to share what we know with the folks who come visit our farm.”
During the tour, they had a steady stream of visitors “honestly wanting to connect with the farmers who grow their food.” Visitors got to hang out with their chickens, watch their bees in action and learn about beekeeping, and explore their u-pick berry beds. Blackley and Jordan’s favorite moments? “Watching people’s faces when they would taste one of our fresh raspberries. It was like watching someone being swept off their feet — pretty cool stuff!”
Another favorite element? Joining with 40 other WNC farms. “I think that the agricultural community here is one of the best,” Blackley says. “One of the first things I did, before I ever bought my first raspberry plant, was contact Walter Harrill from Imladris Farm. He’s become a really good friend to me and my family, and he knows a thing or two about growing berries!”
Blackley hopes to use all she’s learned from Harrill and fellow farmers, along with her own experiences, to continue expanding her berry operation in order to keep up with demand. Her partner, Jordan, also wants to expand the beekeeping side of the farm by setting up a business that helps new beekeepers navigate the first year of establishing their hives. Together, they could also lstart a business offering advice on how to make a diamond-in-the-rough a true gem. But, for now, they’ve got other priorities. “We both want to raise our daughter on the farm, helping her to understand and appreciate the natural cycles and processes that occur and to foster and sense of accomplishment in her from a young age.” Plus, “it’s true,” Blackley says, “kids are so much more likely to eat healthy foods if they had a hand in growing it themselves.”
Find the Farm
Find Jordan, Blackley, and their farm products every week during market season at the West Asheville Tailgate Market — Tuesdays from 3:30 through 6:30 p.m. Or, purchase honey and berries directly from the farm. For more information, call 667-0120, or visit jordanblackleyfarm.com.
Didn’t make it to Candler during the Family Farm Tour? Blackley and Jordan offer farm tours seven days a week, weather permitting. Contact them at the number above, and find more information about their farm cabin rentals on their site.
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.