Bob Clark and Becky Castle were living in Southern California with their three young daughters when they decided to come back east. Clark was from central New York, and although Castle was born in Connecticut, her family came from the Northeast Kingdom. The couple met at Middlebury College in the late 1980s, so they set their sights on Vermont and put down roots (both literally and figuratively) in Shelburne.
Returning to Vermont gave the couple a chance to try their hands at agriculture. Clark grew up on a dairy farm and Castle runs a consulting firm which does fundraising and partnership development for international agricultural groups. They purchased land on Spear Street in 2013 with plans for a berry farm, which they named Fisher Brothers Farn, for Clark’s maternal family.
“We did two years of prep work to make the soil healthy with cover crops,” Castle said “and we built our small barn in 2014.” The couple’s first berries were planted in 2015. “One of the challenges for perennials like berries,” Castle said “is it takes two years for the first crop and four to five years for full production.”
Years ago, when Castle and Clark lived in Hood, Oregon, they found themselves eating so much ice cream they vowed not to have any they hadn’t hand-cranked themselves. Fast forward to Vermont, where Castle realized it would be hard to make money solely on berries. The couple decided to add “farm to cone” home-made ice cream to their business. Since their three daughters – Lily (14), Sunshine (12) and Maggie (10) – are each required to spend a minimum of ten hours a week on farm work, they settled on the name Sisters of Anarchy for their new brand. There are currently fourteen flavors, using crops grown on the farm, with names like Crystal Blue Persuasion (blueberry) and The Berry in Black (blackberry).
Although Castle still has her day job, both she and Clark spend at least 12 hours a day on farm work during the peak season. “It’s a yeomen effort to make it all happen,” Castle said. “I’m still consulting full-time but also farming full-time in the summer.” The couple has 23,000 row feet with three varieties of blueberries, three blackberries, four raspberries, three elderberries and one aronia berry. They also have three acres of Marquette grapes. This year they will be adding test plots of gooseberry and lingonberry and they hope to have pumpkins in the fall.
Fisher Brothers Farm has pre-picked and U-pick operations, as well as ice cream catering. They will open their farm stand in May and hope the addition of new crops will make them a year-round operation. The family is also starting to make flavorings and syrups for breweries including an elderberry-infused beer brewed by Magic Hat.
“Even though we’re on Spear Street and it’s a noticeable place, you have to work to build your market,” Castle said. “We’ve had two years of retail operations and we’re growing.” Castle is pleased to be over the initial hurdle, but both she and Clark recognize that agriculture is not an easy field. “There is a lot of unanticipated stuff that comes up,” she said. “There are things we can’t even begin to conceive.” Nevertheless, the future looks rosy for the family, and Castle notes that later this spring the farm hopes to have some exciting news to share with their customers.