LIVERMORE — A young couple is growing their farm fruit by fruit, just like ancestors in the Berry family before them. They have added a twist to the mix of growing vegetables and selling baked goods.
Joel, 28, and his wife, Melissa Gilbert, 27, have established Berry Fruit Farm on Crash Road.
Joel Gilbert learned how to grow apples from his grandfather, Carlton Berry of Livermore. Berry is the youngest son of the late Lewis Berry, who worked with his father, the late Howard Berry, to plant five acres of apple trees every year in the early 1900s. Lewis and his six sons formed the Berry Hill Orchard Co. in 1945. At the time, there were more than 7,250 fruit trees, according to information on the Berry Fruit Farm website, www.berryfruitfarm.com. The Gilberts also have a facebook page at facebook.com/berryfruitfarm.
The Gilbert's house is on the site of what was formerly known as the Berry's back farm. The land is owned by his grandfather and the couple owns the home.
There are more than 800 apple trees, many left over from years ago. Some new ones have been planted as part of the fruit farm.
There was a lot of work to do on the 30-acre farm before the couple could plant new crops and make it their residence. Older apple trees had to be removed.
“We cleared it and pulled stumps,” Joel Gilbert said. “We have a new raspberry patch, a new strawberry patch and pumpkins and winter squash.”
Raspberries take three years to establish.
“We are in our second year,” he said.
He previously had a successful try at growing raspberries at another site in 2004.
They expect to open the rows of raspberries to let people pick their own in the future.
They also planted about 3,000 strawberry plants this spring in raised beds, using black plastic to keep weeds out and installing a drip irrigation system.
The strawberries are very, very sweet, he said.
Joel Gilbert became a full-time farmer two years ago and runs a portable sawmill on the off-season. His wife always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She takes care of the couple's children, Noah, 4, and Evelyn, 8 months, helps with the farm and makes baked goods.
“We do a lot of bagels and sweet breads," Melissa Gilbert said. "We're just looking for a way to add value to what we are growing.”
Once the apples are ready, they will open up the apple orchard to U-pick for the third year.
Joel Gilbert is seeing more people getting involved in small agriculture, which is a good sign, he said.
Noah is already interested. He drives a toy John Deere tractor, a smaller version of his father's real one.
He loves living on a farm and is his father's right-hand man, Melissa Gilbert said.
“You'll see them mowing, planting seeds, working on irrigation, pruning and harvesting together,” she said.
The family has been adding new crops each year. Some will be ready this year, some next year and others in a couple of years.
In the spring, they planted more fruit trees, including peach, cherry, pear and plum.
These will be ready in a year or two, Joel Gilbert said.
They also added to the apple varieties with Gala, Honeycrisp and Zelstar!, a high-density, early apple, he said.
The bulk of the apples, however, are McIntosh and Cortland.
“We're here to feed the community; that is basically why we exist,” Gilbert said. “We are looking to keep our local food industry strong.”
The pumpkin patch and the Kabocha, a winter squash, planted this year are growing well.
They expect to open the farm stand in the first or second week in September.
“There is so much going on," he said. "We have a lot to think about and offer the community. We really like working with people. We're excited about this.”