Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists at Virginia State University are looking for Southside farmers, especially those who previously raised tobacco, who are interested in growing blackberries, blueberries or strawberries.
Identifying and assisting new potential berry growers is part of a three-year Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission grant-funded project to promote berry crops as an alternative farm enterprise in the region.
During the three-year project, 13 farmers will receive an acre of either blackberry, blueberry or strawberry plants; mulch; drip irrigation lines; a trellis system for blackberry crops; use of a spreader; technical assistance; and management information. In addition, project team members will provide educational assistance in growing and marketing a berry crop.
Extension staff believe Southside has the potential to meet a high demand for locally grown berries.
“Locally grown produce, especially berries, which are known to have significant health benefits, have experienced a sharp increase in consumer demand,” explained Dr. Reza Rafie, VSU horticulture Extension specialist. “We’ve done extensive research throughout Central and Southside Virginia, and we feel confident that the growing conditions are right for local farmers to help meet this demand.”