Strawberry Fields Forever
Farm-Fresh Strawberries, Sunflowers, and Pumpkins
By Kathy Bradshaw | Photography by Emily Pérez Long
Bill Perry and Aubie Smith met while working for UPS right out of high school. And although it was the shipping industry that brought them together, their true passion is farming. They soon pooled their resources and their agricultural knowledge and opened Smith-Perry Berries, where they grow strawberries, pumpkins, sunflowers, and more. Visitors to the farm can pick the sunflowers and pumpkins themselves or drive up for just-picked strawberries by the bucketful.
Both men have a long-standing background in farming.
“Growing up here on the farm, one of my earliest memories is bottle-feeding an orphaned calf. I grew up riding on the fenders of open-air tractors with my father and raising heifers,” says Smith. “My fascination with the planting, growing, and harvesting of strawberries gained more momentum. I learned that my grandfather actually grew strawberries in the 1950s and 60s in Harrison and Ooltewah.”
Since strawberries are a family legacy, it seems only natural that Smith would end up in the berry biz, although he has also expanded into other crops. In 2010, he began growing sunflowers for a hunting club, and by 2016, with Bill Perry’s help, he had opened his sunflower fields to the public – for photos and picking, he says. Then, he planted his first acre of strawberries in 2017. And in 2018, in addition to beginning to grow pumpkins on the farm that same year, Smith and Perry also officially opened Smith-Perry Berries “pick-your-own” farm.
“I would describe that time as both stressful and exciting,” Perry explains. “Since strawberries are planted in October and harvested in the spring, we were anxiously anticipating how our first crop would taste. The community was very supportive, and our strawberries were well received.”
As with any small business, Smith and Perry have had to overcome challenges along the way.
“From fall planting to spring harvest, it takes a lot of planning to arrange for workers to cover and uncover the plants when the chance of frost is forecasted, gather supplies, and recruit family and friends to help,” Perry admits. “As farmers and small business owners, we don’t have the resources that large farms have, so we have to be resourceful in keeping equipment running and flexible as the weather requires.”
But their biggest challenge of all? “Time, time, and time,” Smith says.
Yet despite any difficulties, both their plants and their business are thriving. The farm has grown from its humble beginnings of just one acre of strawberries and pumpkins harvested their opening year to an anticipated eight-acre harvest of those two crops this year. They’ve also branched out considerably. Now, not only do they grow and sell strawberries, sunflowers, and pumpkins, but hay and hay bales as well. They feature hayrides, a kids’ zone playground, and even a “pumpkin launcher.” They hope to add activities for the physically challenged to their kids’ zone and to soon offer birthday parties, field trips, and educational group tours. “Many children and adults have never picked their own pumpkins. It’s a pleasure to answer their questions and share the experiences of farming,” Perry says. “We believe in helping people understand how and where fruit and vegetables come from.”
The “farm-to-table” concept has been a trend for many years now, with farmers and gardeners bringing the farm to the consumer through the sale of freshly picked fruits and vegetables at markets or in restaurants. But the Smith-Perry “you-pick” farming concept allows people to get yet another step closer to fresh fruits and vegetables – it brings them directly to the farm. And for Perry and Smith, this is a highlight of their job. “The most rewarding aspect for us is watching our guests experience the farm,” Perry says. “We love sharing the fruits of our labor with the community.”
Whether you want strawberries to make a jam or a pie, pumpkins to carve, or sunflowers to brighten up your home, Smith-Perry Berries has something for everyone. And Smith and Perry are happy to welcome you. “We enjoy meeting new friends and catching up with old friends,” Smith says. “Our visitors help to keep the farm alive.”