Students tour alternative crops farm for special project

Barbara Hootman

Hops, native blueberries, ramps milkweed and Monarch butterflies are one local farm’s special crops.

Hop’n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain hosts many student tours, educating them about alternative crops. Van Burnette and wife Vicki realized that if they were to make the old Burnette farm viable in today’s agricultural world, they had to offer something different and beneficial.

“It is important for students to understand that everything we do has consequences,” Van Burnette said. “We need to learn to make the consequences good ones. The nice thing about student tours is that it gives a hands-on experience.”

“The (Sept. 10) field trip coincided with the seventh-grade students’ Natural Impact Initiative, a hands-on program that helps connect the digital generation to their Appalachian natural heritage,” Owen Middle School science teacher Brittany Krasutsky said.

A farm tour at Hop’n Blueberry starts with a historic description of Burnette’s family in the North Fork Valley near Black Mountain. Hop’n Blueberry Farm specializes in alternative crops such as hops, native blueberries, ramps, and milkweed. The farm also raises Monarch butterflies in a custom-designed butterfly flight house for release.

Working with North Carolina State University and Appalachian State University, Hop’n Blueberry Farm is one of the first hops farms in the area and contributes to the study of hops horticulture in North Carolina.

Burnette holds pollinator workshops and has an annual Monarch tag and release.

“The workshop is a great way to learn how to build native bee habitats that will not only attract the most efficient pollinators to your gardens, but attract many different butterfly species as well,” he said. “The Monarch tag-and-release is one of the most popular events the farm host. We net live Monarchs that we have raised during the year in our butterfly house and place small tags on their wings. We record the information and release them to be on their way.”

The Owen Middle School students learned to make bee hotels and how important pollinators are for man’s food source. They collected flower seeds in the native pollinator maze and made seed bombs which they took back to school. They also toured the on-site butterfly house and saw Monarch butterflies in various stages of development.

“This field trip was a great way for me to learn about my surroundings, and the future for the environment. And it was an awesome and fun activity,” seventh-grade student Ella Howie said.

“Students planted the seed bombs and some 30 milkweed starter plants donated by Hop’n Blueberry Farm in the school garden,” Owen Middle School science teacher Brittany Krasutsky said. “We hope to have a new wildflower pollinator habitat in spring 2016. It will be planted and maintained by the seventh-grade students.”

“We are making progress one step at a time,” Burnette said.