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Profile of Moss Mill Berry Farm
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BY BILL FREEHLING
Starting a business always carries some risk of failure.
"If the whole thing fails miserably, I'll have plenty of blackberries for jam and cobbler," said Elam, who owns and operates Moss Mill Berry Farm with his two grown daughters.
Elam is a civil engineer who has worked in public works for Caroline and Spotsylvania counties for more than 30 years. He is director of the Spotsylvania utilities department's engineering and construction division.
During his long career, Elam has designed, built and reviewed a large number of projects involving water. So in 2007, when Elam had the chance to buy an 18-acre property across Rozell Road from his home of three decades, he couldn't resist.
The property, which is a couple of miles from where Stonewall Jackson died, fronts a 30-acre pond named Dalton after a former owner. For centuries the water powered mills that processed corn and grain. Civil War surgeons used to have picnics by the pond.
Elam saw an opportunity to apply the skills he had learned on the job toward restoring one of the property's long-abandoned mills. By rebuilding the mill and installing a steel water wheel, he could generate electricity to be used on the property.
A closer examination revealed that the water wheel would probably generate only about four horsepower, which wouldn't result in enough savings to justify the installation cost.
Elam started thinking about what else he could do with the property, which he called Moss Mill after one of the former owners. What he came up with was blackberries, a fruit he loves. Power from the mill would be enough to pump the groundwater to irrigate the crop.
Since then, Elam has been slowly adding blackberry plants and branching out into other fruits. Moss Mill Berry Farm now has about 40 rows of blackberries, 10 rows of raspberries, 60 blueberry plants and some apple trees. He plans to plant strawberries next year.
Last summer the crop had grown to the point that Moss Mill began opening to the public for pick-your-own berries. Elam and his daughters, Lindsey Chase and Kari Elam, also sell their berries during the summer at a farmers market in Ashland.