Green is not the first color one notices upon arrival at Georgia Mountain Berry Farms in Eastanollee; red is. Acres and acres of Georgia’s famous red clay. In the middle of it all, on a gently rising hill, Arthur Thomas is having a (green) building erected – the headquarters of his blackberry farming operations.
Started in 2008 with a loan from ACE (already paid off), the enterprise is gearing up for expansion in the coming years. There is, on this 45-acre property, plenty of room for it. Blackberries may be complemented by blueberries; beans, corn, tomatoes and okra will be there as well. But it’s the blackberries that are the main focus.
Last year, with newly installed plants, the farm yielded close to 40 gallons of the sweet, dark fruit. This year, there will be much more. Thomas showed a visitor around the other week, just as the plants began to leaf out, and mentioned the three forms of business a farm such as his can pursue: PYO (pick your own, as has been popular around the state with strawberries, blueberries and even Christmas trees), packaging for the wholesale market, and in an “added value” model (e.g. jams and jellies). Thomas is making plans for the wholesale market.
Georgia Mountain Berry Farms currently has three part-timers working alongside Thomas (“my grandson and two high school buddies of his”, he explains), but the idea is to eventually have an operation that employs 15 to 20 local people. “This area used to be all textile,” he mentions, and adds that it can become an “agricultural force” in Northeast Georgia. “The people here are hard-working, energetic and smart,” he tells his visitor, “and all we need is opportunity. His vision reaches far beyond the blackberries, the 45 acres and the red clay hills, going to a “Georgia Grown / Georgia Made” co-op of furniture makers, agricultural growers and producers of added-value products.
For now, though, he tends his blackberry orchards, accompanied by one or more of the four cats that are part of the staff. “Mice love blackberry roots,” he explains, “and nothing works better against them than cats.”
Arthur Thomas, Georgia Mountain Berry Farms, Eastanollee, GA, 706-491-6851