SINCE 2011, Michael and Kari Sponaugle have grown fresh produce in the mountains of Highland County, Virginia which is not an easy feat. Beginning years had them growing 40+ varieties of vegetables and fruit on an 8-acre rented corn field from a neighbor and selling it via farm stand and farmers market. Ten seasons later, they rent and steward 50+ acres of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens, bell and specialty peppers, tomatoes and summer and winter squash. Both from farming backgrounds and Highland County natives, Michael and Kari have 4+ generations of farming family members preceding them. Located west of the Shenandoah Valley, the Sponaugles season is about two weeks shorter on both ends – starting later and ending earlier than Valley growers. However, this is a suitable climate for certain crops to be grown in the “off seasons” before and after peak of eastern farms to fill production gaps.
Since 2016, they have transitioned from road-side produce stands and farmers marketing model to wholesale and bulk vegetable distribution. Due to COVID restrictions and through some farm adaptations, CHP ran two successful farm share seasons in 2020 and 2021, delivering weekly farm shares to a three-county radius from June to October. They rely on H2-A labor and family employees. With full time day jobs (Kari is the Highland & Bath County 4-H Extension Agent and Michael works on the family cattle and poultry farm) and their own family growth to include two young sons and a 3rd child expected in May 2022, the transition to mostly wholesale vegetable production has helped the Sponaugles increase time and land use efficiency.
Church Hill Produce LLC is a Harmonized GAP farm. They assisted Local Food Hub with the creation of video modules for a produce safety training program created in 2021 to help growers understand FSMA and the Produce Safety Rule. Their vegetables can be bought directly off the farm, found in dishes created by UVA Dining, included in 4P Food bags and in mid-Atlantic retailers like Food Lion and Giant grocery stores.