Fruit buffer to serve poultry farm, produce stand

Managing Editor

STOCKTON, Md. (Sept. 15, 2015) — Rick Blevins and his family started poultry farming in 2006 with three commercial houses.
Three years ago, they started growing produce to sell at their Twin Oak Farms’ roadside stand in front of the farm.
The stand includes a wide line of preserves and other canned goods made by Rick’s wife, Valerie, in her certified farm kitchen.
This month, the two parts of the farm got more intertwined with the planting of a vegetative buffer of different berry bushes along the side of the chicken house.
The 500-foot buffer runs the length of one of the Blevins’ chicken houses and includes some traditional fruiting plants like blueberries and raspberries — but also features aronia, elderberry, beach plum and goji berry which have been gaining attention as niche crops.
“We’ll be able to use the fruit produced by the bushes in the canned goods,” Rick Blevins said. “It’s all value added. This is just a win-win when I found out that we could do this.”
This buffer is the first on a poultry farm using fruit bearing plants, said Jim Passwaters, vegetative environmental buffer program coordinator for Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., which used grant funding from the United Soybean Board to help Blevins install the buffer, but buffers of evergreen trees have been planted on hundreds of Delmarva poultry farms in the last 15 years. They filter pollutants from the air coming out of the chicken house and grab nutrients in the runoff from the house’s roof.
Rick said he expects the buffer to help catch unwanted particles from getting into the chicken house as well.
“I’m looking at not only things coming out, but with avian flu, things coming in,” he said.
Passwaters estimated they’ve planted more than 500,000 trees through the buffer program and continually consider new plants for use in buffer situations.
“The theory when I first started was that this was a horrible environment and nothing will grow,” Passwaters said of land around chicken houses. “I’ve not found that to be the case.”
Along with arborvitae as a commonly used tree, they’ve tried different types of hardwood trees.
One grower planted crape myrtle trees, and another planted hazelnut trees.
“It’s been a progression,” said Passwaters. “It’s still a learning process. We’re still learning a lot.”
Passwaters is also considering planting maple trees next to a poultry house’s evaporative cooling system with the idea that the tree’s shade will cool the air going through the system and allow it to run more efficiently.
While cost share funding is available for specific tree varieties, Passwaters, who also operates a nursery and landscaping business, said he has no reservations that the berry buffer will be just as effective.
“I’m a plant guy. This is no different than anything else you can plant,” he said. “Hopefully, if we can show the NRCS folks that it’s living and it’s useful they can consider it for the list of plants that would get cost share.”
At the produce stand, Valerie said the canned good sales have been good.
Some people buy a jar or two at a time and some customers took home whole cases.
“Strawberry jam is the most popular but my favorite is the blackberry jelly,” she said.
Next summer the plants in the buffer will be about 7 to 8 feet tall and another year later, Valerie said she will be able to use the new fruits from most of the bushes in making canned goods for sale, often using old family recipes.
“I’ve always canned for us and my mom and grandmother always canned,” she said. “I like to open the pantry and see all the jars in there and think ‘that looks good and I did all that.’