The blooming success story of Agape House Berry Farm.
When Pati and John Colston purchased a 10-acre homestead from their friends in 2007, they didn’t have any plans besides having a place for their kids to play. They certainly didn’t plan to build a berry farm with little farming experience, even though they’re both avid gardeners.
“Learning to farm — we’re still on the learning curve,” Pati Colston said. But support, hard work and a little luck have turned the humble patch of land in Mustang into the bucolic, blooming Agape House Berry Farm.
Colston’s experience working with kids as a clinical social worker inspired her to cultivate the land. “I heard a lot of kids say they just don’t go outside very much anymore,” she said. “We have this whole great big world out there, and kids need to be exposed to it.”
The idea of using the property to teach plant growth and “the wonder of life” stuck with Colston, she said. She reached out to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, which suggested starting a U-Pick fruit farm.
The farm allows visitors to pluck as many berries as they like straight from the plant, then weigh their container to buy their pickings. Kids get an opportunity for hands-on learning about nature … though some come mainly to gather produce. “Sometimes we have some serious jelly pickers come out; especially (during) blackberry season, they really pick away,” Colston said.
The Colstons planted their first blackberries in 2015, which yielded fruit the next spring, and have since added strawberry and blueberry plants to the farm. Blackberries and blueberries grow on bushes that last 10 to 15 years, but their strawberry plants require replanting every year, she said. In a typical season, strawberries ripen first on the farm around May, and then blackberries and blueberries both arrive in the middle of June.
“Farming is year-round, but during the winter, it’s more maintenance,” Colston said. Although she has another job outside the farm, she finds farmwork to be a nice break. “You can get lost in it because it’s really enjoyable to trellis the blackberries in the fall … trimming up the blueberries and pulling weeds.”
What have the Colstons learned during transition from gardening to farming? “To be patient,” she said. Results are not immediate, and Oklahoma weather and soil present many challenges for growing fruit, but the Colstons receive help and tips from other farmers, such as the Owasso Christmas Tree & Berry Farm.
The Oklahoma Agritourism program, part of the state’s department of agriculture, provides frequent coaching for the family and awarded a grant to the farm to plant its first strawberries in 2016. The department also runs Oklahoma Farm to School, which supplies educational materials and coloring books to the farm.
Education is core to Agape House Berry Farm. The Colstons routinely host field trips for schools, daycares and camps, as well as classes and an annual ladybug festival to teach the agricultural use of the bug as a pest control.
For the farm’s future, the Colstons plan to open more classes and a food truck, although they are just grateful for successful growth. “You try to do all the right things, but you’re still just hoping you’re going to have a season,” she said. “So, when you go out, and you have lots and lots of blooms, it’s amazing. It’s just the miracle of how things grow.”