• Produce of Passion

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021


    MOUNT CRAWFORD — The dirt under Joseph Ulmer’s fingernails could be seen from a distance as he inspected a row of heirloom tomatoes growing inside a greenhouse built behind his home.

    One by one, Ulmer pulled away the green bushy leaves in order to count how many tomatoes were on a vine. The key was to leave only four. All the others were removed.

    One large greenhouse.

    Two-hundred and fifty tomato plants.

    Harvested three times a year.

    It’s a year-round job and one Ulmer has no qualms about.

    “I am very passionate about it,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to get down and get dirt on my hands.”

    Farmers and producers within the agricultural community are a “unique” set of individuals, Ulmer said, and typically carry a certain passion for what they do. That passion is recognized annually on National Agriculture Day, which is celebrated today.

    National Agriculture Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America, which started it in 1973. The organization aims to provide public awareness of agriculture’s role in today’s society by providing educational webinars, events and resources centered around the land's bounty.

    The Agriculture Council of America’s core values can be seen on full display at Ulmer’s property in Mount Crawford, which is home to Overlook Produce and Farm Adventures.

    Just 2 miles west of Interstate 81's Exit 240, Overlook Produce becomes a farmers market destination between the months of April and October.

    With 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables, a mixture of plants and succulents and several livestock products such as beef, pork and lamb, Ulmer’s business highlights all areas of agriculture found within Rockingham County.

    But the popularity of the produce stand, as well as its growth through the years, wasn’t something that happened overnight.

    Growing up in Bridgewater, Ulmer said he always wanted to get into farming, but couldn’t afford it.

    In 2012, Ulmer made his first venture into the produce-growing world and rented farmland in Weyers Cave to grow a variety of vegetables for the wholesale market. It was during this time that Ulmer garnered a high interest in growing tomatoes, which now takes up a large part of the business.

    Four years later, Ulmer purchased 3 acres of land off Dinkel Avenue in Mount Crawford with the goal of starting an open-air retail market where he could sell his produce grown on site.

    Ulmer said he started with growing pumpkins and selling the smaller ones at the produce stand to bring in revenue. At the end of each day, Ulmer said he would bring home a sour cream container filled with money.

    “I then thought of selling year-round,” he said.

    Within five years, Ulmer’s farm stand grew exponentially.

    “Now, 90% of what we grow is retail,” he said.

    Ulmer said what helped the business take off was the ability to introduce more products to retail. Added to the lineup were plants and flowers, homemade honey and local baked goods.

    “We have 8,000 mums to retail in the fall,” he said. “And then we got bees because they are beneficial to the plants.”

    Ulmer said some of Overlook Produce’s most popular baked goods are the strawberry pie, peach pie and apple cider donuts.

    A few weeks after the produce stand opens to the public, Ulmer offers pick-your-own strawberries for visitors, followed by pick-your-own pumpkins and sunflowers. And if the 5 acres of fresh strawberries, blackberries and raspberries didn’t call in a crowd, the 5,000 locally grown succulents are easy to grab a visitor's attention.

    Ulmer said it’s been a rewarding process watching the produce stand grow from selling small pumpkins to what it is today.

    “I didn’t expect it to grow, I had no idea,” he said.

    Ulmer said what he enjoyed the most is educating visitors on where the food being sold comes from.

    “We host several groups here a year, including FFA, 4-H and school groups,” he said. “I get to educate people on how stuff works and how the Shenandoah Valley is so prosperous on farming.”

    Ulmer said working alongside his wife, Janice, to maintain produce is a morning, evening and night job that comes with a few perks.

    “At the end of the day, it’s peaceful to come in the greenhouse and work,” he said. “And I like to grow as much as we can for our customers.”

    An opening date for Overlook Produce has not been determined as of Monday. Updates will be provided on the stand's Facebook page and website.

    Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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