Ozark Outdoors

Berries of their berry own

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Let’s face it (and you already know this), growing your own isn’t for everyone. It’s hard, tedious, back- breaking work that requires both knowledge and constant knowledge. Despite your best efforts, one wrong move and the forces of nature can undo you.

But get it just right, and the satisfaction can exceed your wildest expectations.

You can ask Brenda Olcott-Reid, and her husband, Bill Reid, who live five miles east of Chetopa, Kansas, (For the geographically challenged, that 30 miles west of Joplin.) They operate Brenda’s Berry & Orchards, where she grows blackberries, raspberries, peaches, apples, pears and strawberries. From their harvest also comes more than two dozen jams and jellies.

Brenda Olcott-Reid in her orchard near Chetopa, KS

Brenda Olcott-Reid in her 10-year old orchard near Chetopah, Kansas

Though they certainly aren’t the only fruit growers in the Ozarks, they may have more education and research between them than any of us. And still they don’t have all the answers.

Brenda and Bill wrote a textbook, Fruit and N ut Production (Stipes Publishing, 2007), that is used as the text in fruit production courses at many colleges and universities. She has written more than 50 magazine articles on fruit growing for many gardening magazines and American Fruit Grower.

For the past 10 years, she has applied her knowledge in the field at Brenda’s Berries & Orchard (620-597-2450, or by e-mail at reidfarm@ckt.net) a retail fruit farm east of Chetopa, Kansas.

“I developed an interest in fruit growing by age 15, when I was riding past a peach orchard near our home, and loved the way it looked,” she remembers. “I met my husband in high school and was amazed to learn he also wanted to go into agriculture — very unusual in our suburban high school.”

“We both studied pomology (fruit science) at Rutgers University and worked summers on a fruit farm. We married and both went on to get Master’s degrees at North Carolina State University, then moved to southeast Kansas in 1981 when Bill got the job as director of Kansas State University’s Pecan Experiment Field.”

Brenda taught Kansas State University’s Fruit Production course, and many other horticulture courses at other colleges and universities.

Bill later earned his doctorate at Oklahoma State University. Brenda completed her Ph.D. in fruit breeding at University of Arkansas, then taught 16 different courses at Coffeyville Community College.

When Brenda spoke a the Agritourism Conference on Small Fruits and Nuts in Springfield earlier this spring, we arranged to meet, along with one of their three children, Sarah, a recent graduate in electronic arts from Missouri State University who now volunteers at The Library Center. (Sarah produced the graphics that accompany this story, and is still pursuing her big career break.)

The MSU Agritourism Conference audience included most budding growers and other professionals who thankfully have devoted their careers to developing disease-resistant fruits for the Ozarks.

And after, all, the difference between a berry picked ripe from a vine vine and popped into your mouth and one picked somewhere and flash frozen is why many of us in the Ozarks are willing to pay a little extra, drive a bit further, or work a little harder.

“We became even more committed to fruit and nut crops as perennials that hold the soil and produce great-tasting, high-value crops that help prevent cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”

With wineries and distilleries returning to the Ozarks and Midwest, you might think wine- making could be an option.

“We have no plans to get into wine; we don’t want to have to get a liquor production license, “says Brenda.

Instead, they plan to pursue what they already know, adding a sales building and cooler this year.

“We are slowly expanding our production by planting more peach, apple and blackberry plants.”

Advice for those who have the itch to grow fruit commercially:

“Get some education in agriculture, as we did – farming takes a lot of knowledge. During school, get part-time jobs on the type of farm you want to later have, again as we did. After school, get salaried jobs first to build some capital to later buy land and equipment. Have kids, and start the farm business when the kids are old enough to work for you. Start small, perhaps one-half acre each of two kinds of fruit, and plant more as your market grows. Focus on marketing – it’s key. Avoid or minimize debt by saving ahead for equipment and other purchases.
“Attending conferences like the 2011 Agritourism: Small Fruit and Vegetable Conference is a great way to learn about new varieties and growing techniques, and to share experiences with other growers.”
– Brenda Olcott-Reid

Fruit and Berry growers in the Ozarks*

  • Berry Patch (Bolivar)
  • Byers Orchard (Fordland)
  • Blondies Berry Patch (Springfield)
  • Cameron Farms (Fair Play (Springfield)
  • Campbell’s Fresh Market (Clever)
  • Dove Mountain Organic Vineyard (Mountain Grove)
  • Fassnight Creek Farm (Springfield)
  • G’s Orchard (Monett)
  • Jensen Gardens (Springfield)
  • Millsap Farm (Springfield)
  • Murphy Orchard (Marionville and Seymour)
  • Natures Lane Farm (Ozark)
  • Notch Berry Farm (Monett)
  • Ozark Mountain Orchard (Highlandville)
  • Sunshine Valley Farms (Springfield)
  • Willis Organic Farms (Washburn)

*For a state-by-state registered list of fruit and vegetable growers, try www.pickyourown.org.

Brenda’s Picking calendar:

Crops are usually available in June, July, August.
Hours are Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to Noon; 7 to 9 pm;
Sunday 7-9 p.m.;
Closed afternoons (Noon-7 p.m.)

Strawberries—May 8-June 10
Red Raspberries—June 4-July 6
Black Raspberries—June 6 to June 30
Purple Raspberries—June 15-July 18
Thornless Blackberries—June 20-Aug. 20
Peaches—June 28-Aug. 18
Apples—Aug. 15-Nov. 15
Harvested peaches—June 28-Aug. 18
Harvested apples—Aug. 15-Nov. 15

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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