By Keith Whitson
It was a “berry” good event. Saturday, Unicoi County celebrated another successful festival, this one in the Town of Unicoi. The annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival drew a large crowd to enjoy good food, friends, crafts, entertainment and, of course, the star attraction, the strawberry. Despite earlier forecasts for a rainy day, it turned out to be beautiful weather, making the event an even greater success.
It has also been a good year for strawberries. The crops depend upon the mercy of the spring weather. With this spring starting unusually early, the berries started early as well. This could have proven damaging if hit by a hard, late freeze, but the cold snaps were not extreme enough to hurt excessively.
I spoke with Steve Scott who gave me a better idea of the Scott Farm operation. Steve and his brother David now run the farm which was started by their late father, Wayne Scott. The boys grew up around their father and had interest in carrying on the family tradition.
“Daddy and momma lived in town. He taught agriculture and he had a few strawberries back in ‘57, ‘58. They moved here, to the farm in Unicoi, in 1959 and that’s when he started farming here,” Steve said.
“When he moved here, I remember he probably had seven or eight acres, something like that. He started growing a few tomatoes and he farmed basically here on this land and then he started leasing some land down in Unicoi where the tire plant is now,” Steve said. “I know when I was in high school we were leasing land out in Sandy Bottom actually where the motel and all that are now. In ‘72 he started leasing down on the river and started expanding and growing.”
This year the Scotts will grow around 375 acres of tomatoes and around 24 acres of strawberries. At one time his father was up to 125 acres of strawberries, but their current method of using plastic allows greater yield per acre.
“I have been in this 38 years now for a living, since I got out of school, and I thought I had seen every scenario you could see for spring time,” Steve said. “But, this one never really got cold and then it started warming up and then it got cold and warmed up again and then it got real cold.
“With tomatoes, corn or anything, you set a goal. Our goal is 1,000 crates per acre, which would be 4,000 gallons to the acre. Sometimes we get that and sometimes we don’t. Right now we’re behind. The little bit of rain has slowed them down some. Strawberries love sunshine and warm weather. They don’t like hot weather, but mid 70s to around 80 is about perfect.
“We reset every year. We get our stock plants out of a nursery in California. We grow them in the field and then about August 1st, we’ll go in and take cuttings off of the runners and grow them in a greenhouse for about four to five weeks. That is the plant we take back and start planting around September 10th for next year’s crop,” he said.
“We grow peppers and squash and cucumbers as well as beans and corn to have at our market here.
“We’ve got a stand in Knoxville, a stand in Clinton and then we have stands in Newport, Morristown and Greeneville, of course here in Unicoi, Erwin, Elizabethton, Bristol, two in Kingsport, Johnson City and Gray. We run the stands and then run wholesale to Food City some.
“We are trying to carry on what momma and daddy built,” Steve said. “They worked and gave us the opportunities we’ve got and we hope to keep it going. I’ve got two sons of my own. David and I together have five sons, but my two are the only two who have chosen to want to come back into it, and they are both working on the farm now. If it goes on, they’ll be the two that keep it going.
“The festival is one of those things that make all of us proud that they did name it after him (Wayne Scott). He and momma worked hard to build this. David and I have been given the opportunity. Nobody gave daddy anything. He and momma worked hard and went through a lot to do what they did,” he added.
Strawberries will still be available for a few more weeks. Steve said, “We still have blooms and green strawberries left in the field. We’ve probably peeked out volume wise. After this rain we have to go in and clean some stuff up, pick some stuff off and throw it away, but another three weeks there should be some, not a tremendous amount, but maybe enough to keep some of the stands going and enough here for the market.”
The Scotts are getting ready for their blueberry harvest next.