Nancy Cornish knows opportunity can knock twice.
When she learned last fall that the Rocky Point Blueberry Farm was for sale, she didn’t waste a moment to get in her bid to buy it.
She was all smiles last Monday afternoon following the first day of blueberry picking since she, her son Stephen and daughter-in-law Sonya took over operations of the 8.5-acre property and home on Warwick Neck. It was nonstop at the farm with more than 160 sales from 7 a.m. to noon, when the farm closes because by that time it’s just too hot.
It couldn’t be better. It was sunny. The berries are ripe, some almost as big around as quarters, and in this day of COVID-19 requirements here was an activity that had everyone properly distanced and enjoying the fruits of the season.
“They were happy people, happy to be outside,” Sonya said.
The story of how Nancy bought the berry farm that Mark and Betty Garrison started in the mid-1980s goes back to 2012 when the Garrisons sold the property, preserving it as woodlands and for agricultural uses through the sale of an easement to the Department of Environmental Management, and moved to Edgewood. Nancy knows the Garrisons and remembers bringing Stephen to pick berries when he was only 6 months old.
When she learned the Garrisons would be selling [requirements of the easement follow the property], she rushed to submit an offer only to be thwarted by a temperamental computer printer. The following day, when she finally had a document, she hand-delivered it to the Garrisons only to discover the night before they had signed a sales agreement with Rhonda Shumaker and her husband, Joe Gouveia.
She was crushed. She believed she had missed the opportunity of a lifetime, but in retrospect things worked out for the best.
“I think God is wise. He knew ‘not now,’” she said from the living room of the house that will become her son’s home once he completes 24 years of service with the Marine Corps in February 2021. Stephen was on leave this week but returns to Okinawa next week where he has been focused on jungle warfare.
“I was looking for something to do after retirement,” he quips.
All three have already had a good taste of what being a blueberry farmer is all about. In February, Nancy was out with the clippers pruning the bushes and following the directions Rhoda and Joe laid out for her and they had acquired from Mark and Betty. There is a lot of work to managing more than 2,000 blueberry bushes covering two acres.
In the spring when the bushes flower they bring in 9,600 bumble bees – Nancy has the number on the tip of her tongue – to pollinate the berries. Then as the berries develop they hang the netting to protect them from the birds and all the critters that would eat them. That doesn’t stop the deer that punch head-sized holes in the netting for a treat, the squirrels that gnaw holes and the rabbits that burrow under the netting. The birds know how to get in and out, too.
Nancy doesn’t fret over the rabbits since they’ll eat the berries that have fallen to the ground. Then there’s the job of tending the operation once the picking starts. Using Facebook to get out the word, Steve recruited 12 youths to pick so as have berries for those who don’t want to pick their own. In this time of COVID, they set up a station for hand washing and arranged to systematically disinfect the counter.
Thinking back eight years when the Garrisons sold the farm, Nancy says she never would have been able to handle it. As it turned out, she left a job she loved teaching music in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to return to Warwick and care for her aging parents. There was no way she would put either of them in a nursing home. That is something she couldn’t have done while also running a farm. Now she has the time and Steve and Sonya.
When Rhonda and Joe put the farm up for sale this time, Nancy learned of it on Christmas Day 2019.
“Opportunity rings twice,” she says with a smile. She didn’t wait to put in a “formal bid,” finding herself one of four looking to buy the property. She didn’t haggle over the asking price of $712,000 and, in fact, boosted it to $720,000.
“I wasn’t going to lose it this time,” she said.
In addition, she wrote of her dream to own the farm and for Stephen to find community and a home after having served 15 deployments with the Marines. Then there was the matter of raising the money that required selling her house. She and Stephen are equal owners of the farm.
The blueberry picking runs through August when the family will get a brief break before harvesting of pawpaws, the juicy fruit produced from a stand of about 35 trees on the property. With the proper controls, Sonya is hopeful of bringing back the pumpkin walk on Halloween.
For the moment, Nancy soaks in all that has happened – the bounty of blueberries ready to be picked; the house with a glimpse of the bay through the trees; the gurgling pump-fed stream and its ponds just outside the porch; the discovery of a peach tree they didn’t know was on the property and the bringing together of family.
“Every day I go out and listen,” she says standing on the porch. “I think God is blessing me greatly.”
The farm is open to picking from 7 a.m. to noon every day of the week and, in addition, from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursday. The charge is $2.95 per pound for pickers that drops to a low of $2.65 a pound for those picking 100 pounds or more.