Sweet Berry Farm is owned by Jan Paul and Michelle Eckhart and comprises approximately 100 acres with 80 acres under cultivation.
In 1980 we started as a hobby farm growing just a few acres of strawberries and Christmas trees. We maintained full time jobs in our fields of expertise (which was not farming); Jan with his Master’s in Business was working as a real estate developer and running several restaurants in Newport. Michelle, with her fine arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, worked in an art gallery and waitressed.
We joined a few local farmers markets, began adding other crops to our repertoire and became more and more passionate about growing. We wanted to grow everything we possibly could; had so many successes but infinitely more failures. We lived and learned.
During our early years of hobby farming, we often fantasized about diving in and farming full time, but with our small acreage that was not a possibility. The fields next to our small farm were owned by a developer who was waiting for the right time to subdivide. There was no possibility that we could afford this land, or so we thought. However, in 1996, with the help of the Aquidneck Land Trust and a lot of creative minds and deals we managed to purchase the land. Sweet Berry Farm was born.
Our first farm stand was set up under a few white canopies, next to an old goat shed. Our produce was showcased in beer coolers. Jams and jellies sat on shelves and racks that would all too often blow over in the wind. Most of the cut flowers were stored and sold in the shelter of our house. Many customers fondly remember entering the ‘flower room’ filled with buckets and buckets of fresh cut flowers. Our staff was mainly comprised of us, a dear friend, Amy, and Jan’s dad, Ted.
Our current farm stand was built in 2004. We built a certified commercial kitchen where we could make jams and other products. We had no business plan in mind (and still don’t) but grew and continue to grow because we listen to what our customers want and do our best to provide it. We have a very energetic and talented team in our kitchen who continually surprise us. We encourage them to be creative and expand our offerings. Our market and field staff are dedicated and have become like family to us.
Although we are not certified organic, the majority of our crops are pesticide free. A few crops are minimally treated, often with organic sprays. We are continuously testing new varieties of fruit and vegetables in search of flavor and natural disease resistance. We practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and sustainable agriculture techniques. Our farm is GAP certified, which means we utilize Good Agricultural Practices. These practices include many natural and biological methods to minimize insects and disease, allowing us to be low or no spray. GAP also means we are hygienic in our harvesting practices ensuring safe and healthy produce.
We are passionate about farming and love what we do. We look forward to each growing season as an opportunity to become better farmers, serve our customers, and grow with the community.