Before Jen Montgomery and Greg Boulos bought Blackberry Meadows Farm in Fawn in 2008, customers rarely ventured up to the fields.
They instead got all their produce from a barn along Ridge Road.
About three years ago, the couple decided to change that by inviting people up to the farm.
“Almost everybody with kids will go to the barnyard, and they’ll check out the piglets and hold baby rabbits. They’re playing on the playground. They’re getting a little bit dirty,” Montgomery said.
“We’re helping the health of the community by getting people to come out and just be outside.”
Opening the barnyard doors also has strengthened the relationship the farm has with its customers.
In the past, Montgomery said, customers would just stop by to pick up produce and be on their way. Now, they spend time talking with each other and learning about how their food is grown and harvested. Some even want to hold classes and workshops.
“I feel like what’s happening is that we’re creating a place for our community to come where we all have skills and goals that we can share with each other,” Montgomery said.
The farm grows organic fruits and vegetables and produces pork, eggs and poultry.
It has a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program, which means customers buy into the farm and, in return, receive a share of the produce. About 90% of its customers are from the Alle-Kiski Valley.
“They take on the economic risk for us,” Boulos said.
Customers don’t just pay for their crop, they help farm it, too. One woman likes to water and sing to the plants. Another will listen to audio books and weed.
“We open the door several days a week for folks if they just want to come out and see the things are growing and be a part of the field production,” Boulos said.
The farm grows everything you would find in a backyard garden, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuces, green beans, squash and pumpkins.
“We try to focus on heirloom varieties or unique varieties of things,” Montgomery said.
The most popular vegetables are heirloom tomatoes and husk or ground cherries, which are known for their distinct flavor.
A benefit of the CSA is that people receive the crops they might not normally buy. For example, a woman told the couple she never gets eggplant at the grocery store, but she loved the ones she received from the farm.
Some of the odder vegetables the farm has grown include rat’s tail radishes, watermelon radishes and rugosa friulana squash, a wrinkled, yellow squash.
“We’ll grow weird stuff,” Boulos said. “And people who subscribe to it, they bought it so they have to take it. Then they try all these new, crazy vegetables we come up with.”
Boulos and Montgomery are the main workers at the farm. He handles what he calls the “grunt” work — fixing and buying equipment and is also in charge of the animals. Montgomery does the bookkeeping, works with customers and manages the vegetables.
Boulos said his wife is the driving force behind the farm’s community engagement.
“She’s the one who organizes the parents group, and there (are) young kids that come out here every week to do a little farm school,” Boulos said. “She keeps all the social aspects of it together. She publishes our newsletter.
“She turns it from just being a regular old farm into being a real community business.”