Bostons determined to ‘give back’
UNIONVILLE, Va. — Pick-your-own farms dot the map from east to west in Virginia and across the Mid-Atlantic region.
Some offer the experience of cafes, wine tastings and gift shops.
At Dwight and Susan Boston’s Gold Hill Blueberry Farm in Orange County, Va., blueberries are the crop that grows, but often much more is harvested.
Before they married, Dwight developed a deep interest in fruit trees and began experimenting when he’d visit his grandparent’s farm on the weekends. After marriage, Susan helped.
“Around 2001, Mom was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). When visiting she and dad, they always had blueberries in the freezer and I loved them,” said Susan. In 2002, her father passed away from kidney disease and two months later, the Bostons built their home and adopted their daughter, Noah.
In 2006, the couple began growing varieties such as Premier, Tiff Blue and Powder Blue. Susan started the bushes in honor of her mother, who succumbed to ALS in 2009.
“We tinker with 12-13 additional varieties by purchasing several at a time to see how they perform,” Susan said. With an exuberant smile and signature ponytail, she surveyed the bushes, touching their leaves and explaining their various growth habits.
“A couple of years ago, we tried the Titan variety, which produced blueberries the size of small plums,” she said.
“We don’t like the flavor at all, but our customers would say, “Oh my goodness look how giant these blueberries are!”
Farming always came second to their other jobs. Dwight was a licensed clinical social worker. Susan worked as a nurse, kept the farm’s books and managed the farm while homeschooling Noah.
Now the farm boasts 400 bushes that Susan manages year-round.
The lanky gravel driveway to the 19th Century farm winds past their newly-planted Paw Paw trees, straight up to the blueberry field where hundreds of pickers convene each summer during July and August.
Nestled on 60 acres, Gold Hill attracts customers who appreciate the farm’s sustainable practices.
“At first, we didn’t actively think about being sustainable,” Dwight said. “We just chose not to spray chemicals and considered soil health. However, I wondered how many illnesses were connected to chemicals in our food.”
The Bostons said they aim to stay in sync with nature and promote beneficial insects.
“We purchased ladybugs and parasitic wasps to eradicate some pests,” Dwight added. “Milky spore proved the least helpful with the Japanese beetles, but the grape and blueberry crops survive their infestations.”
Along with pick-your-own customers, Gold Hill also hires pickers for pre-ordered berries and shipments to restaurants in the Washington D.C. area.
“We pay by volume instead of by the hour,” Dwight said.
A few years back, they hired a group of teenagers. One had Aspergers Syndrome. The Bostons said they noticed the teen’s fear of bugs, sweat and picking berries and were concerned. But the boy’s parents confirmed he loved his job.
They encouraged him to continue and though he never picked over 2 pints a day, his job at Gold Hill led him later to work full-time in the produce section of a grocery store.
By 2018, the Bostons added grass-fed beef to the mix. The couple started out with goats and sheep, but the labor needed for hoof trimming, birthing, parasites and predators became too much. Susan was working and still trying to manage the property.
Dwight said he first hesitated about the idea of beef cattle.
“We didn’t want to be a slave to fluctuating prices of corn,” he said. So they built better fences, avoided grain and grew grass.
“Grain-fed cattle go to butcher by 18 months in comparison to grass-fed, which go 24-30 months. The cost balances out by rotating fields.”
In 2012, Dwight retired after a 35-year career in family counseling, and was set to farm the property while Susan worked for the University of Virginia as a Pediatric Nurse manager in Orange.
The couple agreed to use her salary to fill in the gaps left by farming but that plan was upended when Susan refused the COVID vaccine in October of 2021, ending her 25-year career with the institution.
“I have a dual degree in Biology and Nursing. I chose not to vaccinate because of my natural immunity from having COVID,” she said. “I read articles from inside and outside of the UVA network about the virus and vaccine. Dwight researched too. We wanted to understand COVID at a cellular level; what it was and what it did. I kept reading that the vaccine triggered auto-immune diseases and triggered cancer cells to take off again. I could not vaccinate children with something I believed dangerous to my own body.”
Twenty-five years earlier, Susan said she gained entry into University of Virginia’s nursing program by writing a required essay based on an ethical issue she valued. The issue she chose was the right-to-life.
After an ethical stance helped her get into nursing school, she said another ethical stance effectively ended her nursing career.
Their pleasure job of farming instantly became their sole income.
Even still, Susan said she focuses on how to help her neighbors more than stressing over next year’s profits. Their church gleans the bushes for free after the farm’s closing week in August. A community cookout at Gold Hill follows in September.
“We provided all the food. Last year, 25 to 30 neighbors from either side of our driveway came,” Susan said. With most families living in the area’s rural countryside, Susan said one family’s visit put everything in perspective.
“We didn’t know them. Their little boy needed to use the bathroom,” She recalled. “I led him inside and when he reached the bathroom door, he said, “Mama, we’re in a palace!”
Tearing up in her retelling, Susan added, “God has provided everything we need. We want to give back.”
Christ in Action, a Culpeper, Va.-based natural disaster relief organization, provides additional ways for the Bostons to serve God. Susan mans the switchboard for their call station full time and oversees the receiving and organization of their household donations. The couple also volunteers on site after disasters like the 2022 Mayfield, Ky., tornado and Hurricane Ian.
“When I lost my nursing job because of the COVID vaccine, I wondered what God had planned. He always shows off. Christ in Action gives their employees the month of July for vacation. The exact month we open Gold Hill for blueberry picking.” Susan said.
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