Local couple’s gamble pays off at blackberry farm
MADISON COUNTY — When it comes to both agriculture and business ventures, sometimes all one can do is roll the dice and hope for the best.
The gamble has paid off big time for one local couple — Gregg Butts and Jennifer Rhodes — the owners of Wild Blackberry Farms south of Ingalls.
In the fall of 2015, they hand-planted thousands of tiny shoots to establish their blackberry fields, on a 40-acre property that sits along County Road 700 West in Madison County.
“It took a year or two for these to have enough volume to do anything other than to eat them ourselves,” Rhodes said.
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After a lot of planting and patience, however, the farm has become a popular destination for people of all ages eager for the chance to pick fresh blackberries straight from the vine. It’s also become a destination for weddings.
Business was so good, the owners decided to plan a Blackberry Festival for July 24 this year, and the event quickly sold out.
The festival featured live local music and food trucks, as well as wineries and breweries providing signature drinks, such as blackberry wine, blackberry sours and blackberry whiskey smashes using Wild Blackberry Farms berries.
There was also a signature dessert — homemade blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream — made “famous” by Rhodes’ mother, Marie.
Rhodes can’t believe how quickly the farm has been embraced by the local community, just six years after she and her family first planted those first tiny shoots in 2015.
“The response has been incredible. Everyone seems to really love being here,” she said.
“I think it feels like a step back in time — when things were a bit slower and simpler. Everyone really loves the blackberries — they are big, beautiful, sweet and super easy to pick, on trellises with no thorns,” Rhodes said. “Everyone also seems to enjoy the quiet setting, and the kids are crazy about our animals, which include horses, goats, rabbits, chickens and a couple of very friendly miniature pigs that often follow you all around waiting for treats.
“All the positive public feedback has really caused us to be even more grateful for this beautiful property, and helps us realize that it really is worth all the work.”
Visitors can also pick up some homemade blackberry jam as well as honey produced by the multitude of bees that pollinate the blackberry blooms on the farm.
Two years after the initial planting, Rhodes and her husband started selling to fresh-market distributors. They began offering limited you-pick hours just last year.
Now the farm caters to a steady crowd of pickers and wholesale buyers, including wineries and breweries, which incorporate the sweet fruit into their libations.
“People always seem pleasantly surprised with the quality of our berries and the difference versus those you find at the grocery,” Rhodes said.
It’s been a wild ride for her and her husband, who live on the farm with their four children — Sam, Nora, Jesse and Olivia.
Much of the 40 acres they call home is occupied by sugar maple trees, hay fields and a creek, but five acres are reserved for the bountiful blackberries.
“We’re able to pick about 1,000 pounds a day at the peak of our season,” Rhodes said.
“Unlike many berries, blackberries have a relatively long season. It generally lasts two full months — all of July and all of August. Sometimes we may even creep into the early weeks of September if we’re lucky and the weather cooperates,” she said.
The farm is typically open 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, weather dependent, but a few evening hours have been added in as well.
Visitors can check the hours at the Wild Blackberry Farms Facebook page, as they may occasionally change.
While the farm founders said they are thrilled with how business is going, they’ve also been surprised to see their small farm become a local wedding destination.
“We sort of fell into this when our pastor asked if his son could get married here. After that, we had a lot of interest from others and after a couple of years decided ‘why not?’ We had a handful of weddings in 2020 and, this year, we are booked beyond what we had intended,” Rhodes said.
“We do try to limit the number of weddings we host given this is our private property, but we love having families here on such important occasions. We feel that our property has taken on a much greater purpose now that we allow families to come visit for you-pick and to enjoy the space on these special days.”
Rhodes and her husband have enjoyed the wedding hosting aspect of the business so much, in fact, that they recently purchased a 1903 Carnegie library in Elwood that they’re restoring, with plans to host weddings and events there starting next year.
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Wild Blackberry Farms
10728 S 700 W
Facebook: @wildblackberry farms
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, weather dependent