Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Hickory Ridge Farm Story


Chesapeake family discovers the joy of hard work and community

by Kymberly Bach

With the reopening of Hickory Ridge Farm, the Pierces have become a  family of farmers.<BR> From left: Jacob, John, Robin, Noah and Clayton.

With the reopening of Hickory Ridge Farm, the Pierces have become a family of farmers.
From left: Jacob, John, Robin, Noah and Clayton.

John and Robin Pierce seem like unlikely farmers. “John didn’t grow up farming,” Robin says with a giggle, “and my background was in marketing and sales.”

Nevertheless, the couple decided to reopen Hickory Ridge Farm—a property that had been in John’s family for years. It wasn’t an easy venture. John had to learn farming from scratch. With her marketing background, Robin was able to move ahead with the business development aspect of things—though the particulars were in a state of evolution for a while. Finally in 2011, Hickory Ridge Farm reopened under their ownership.

“We got so excited when people starting coming out to pick strawberries or pumpkins,” Robin  admits with a brilliant smile and an enthusiasm that’s contagious. “We had put so much work into the farm! We wanted people to come out, tells others about us, and then come back.”

As farmers, the Pierces have faced many challenges along the way—the most overwhelming being a tornado that struck the farm last April. “When the tornado hit, everything was destroyed—the farm stand, the hayride wagons, half of the animal pins, half the barn, all the play houses—everything but the strawberries,” Robin recalls. She pauses. Her voice fills with emotion and a tear coming to her eye when she continues: “Within 10 minutes of the tornado strike, the community started showing up. Within a half hour, there were 50 people here—people we didn’t know—customers, friends and, of course, family.”

“We were overwhelmed by how supportive and generous everyone was,” John adds. “Every day something was happening—whether it was other farmers offering help, or businesses bringing us food, or someone simply making a small donation. Generous offerings of time, talent and money allowed us to rebuild the farm and everything that had been destroyed. Within two weeks, we were operational again. We are so thankful for how everyone rallied to help us. We were, and are, humbled by the whole experience.”

Because of the unseasonably warm weather in February, Robin and John started seeing strawberry blooms earlier than usual. But the cold weather  that followed presented yet another challenge: protecting the blooms.

“When the temperature threatened to drop to freezing, John would come out and watch the thermometer,” Robin explains. “The moment it reached freezing, he would turn the sprinklers on to freeze the fields; freezing the fields, froze the blooms, and freezing the blooms, preserved the potential fruit. He was so vigilant at protecting the blooms that we ended up having a really nice yield, and were able to open earlier than ever.”

With the start of  2018 strawberry season, the fields will be ripe for the picking until the season winds down in mid-June. During that time, Hickory Ridge Farm will offer a variety of fun-filled activities—such as pony rides every day in May, weather permitting. Other  activities are aimed at showing visitors how a farm is run.

“The boys have each found their niche here...
My favorite part of the job
is interacting with the community.
We all miss that
during the farm’s off season.”

—Robin Pierce

“During the seasons that we’re open, lots of schools sponsor field trips to the farm,” Robin explains. “It’s so much  fun to watch kids who have never been on a farm pet a chicken or a bunny, feed an animal, learn how strawberries and pumpkins are grown, take a hayride, or pick strawberries. All of our activities are tied in with the Standards of Learning (SOLs), so the kids are being educated about things related to the curriculum in the public schools. Our activities are aimed at students of all ages. For instance, with preschoolers we focus on the farm animals, but for older students we put more focus on planting and agriculture. Even though all of the activities are educational, they’re really a lot of fun, too! Most of the time, the kids hug us before they leave. We just love that!”

Robin with Randall, one of Hickory Ridge Farm’s feathered residents.

Robin with Randall, one of Hickory Ridge Farm’s feathered residents.

Hickory Ridge Farm is also the perfect location for birthday parties. The play area has sand piles, picnic areas and play houses. Robin and John also offer pony rides. As a way of giving back to the community, the Pierces sponsor day support programs for people with disabilities by allowing the participants and their caregivers to pick and hayride for free when they visit the farm. They will also assist organizations looking for fundraising opportunities, by donating a percentage of strawberry sales at the end of the season.

During summer months, the  farm offers seasonal produce such as zucchini, cucumbers, watermelon, and peppers as part of their participation in the Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Robin explains: “Customers pay up front and commit to buying thirteen weeks of seasonal produce in a predetermined produce box that comes in two sizes. The program runs from May to August, and anyone who would like to be part of it can still sign up.”

Besides John and Robin, their 17-year-old triplet sons—Jacob, Noah and Clayton—have embraced farming.  “The boys have each found their niche here,” Robin says with a proud smile. “One likes working with the equipment and doing the mowing; one runs the barrel train; one likes to help out with the parking lot if it gets overcrowded. On any given day, they may be interacting with the public or doing chores. I pull them into every aspect of work on the farm, and they love it!”

“My favorite part of the job is interacting with the community,” Robin admits. “We all miss that during the farm’s off season. We will shut down at the end of October, at the close of pumpkin season. After that,  our entire family plans to catch up on some much needed rest.”

Life as a farmer has opened John’s eyes to the value of community and neighbors.  “As big as Great Bridge and Hickory are, there is a small town feeling here,” he observes with a smile. “I grew up here, but through the experience of bringing back the farm, my roots in the community have become deeper than ever. It’s been a unique experience–a humbling experience–one for which I’m very grateful.”

Hickory Ridge Farm

2829 South Battlefield Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23322