Emma Scott Garden Club finishes summer with picnic

Submitted photos Rachel Pingley and Vallie Goots are two of the longest-standing members of the Emma Scott Garden Club. Goots was recognized for her dedication to the club and received a Life Membership to the West Virginia Garden Club. Pingley also has a lifetime membership.

ELKINS — Members of the Emma Scott Garden Club gathered at the home of Judy and Al Swanson to say goodbye to the summer gardening season with a potluck picnic dinner.

Guest speakers, Jeff and Lisa Sickler of Sickler Farm in Moatsville, opened the evening event with a discussion on high tunnel gardening. The Sicklers operate a full-scale commercial produce facility, located east of Philippi.

South New Jersey natives, the Sicklers moved to their 140-acre farm in 2002. The two first came to West Virginia nearly 30 years ago during a Mission trip and left knowing they would reside here someday.

“There was something about the area, the mountains and the people that drew us,” Jeff Sickler explained to the group. “We knew we would be back.”

The Sicklers bought an overgrown farm on Chestnut Ridge Road, cleaned it up and raised cattle and hay until 2010 when they founded Sickler Farm. Solely family owned and operated with their son, Michael, Sickler Farm started with the sales of 1,000 mums and has since blossomed into a full-fledged produce farm.

Guest speakers Lisa and Jeff Sickler, of Sickler Farm, discussed the advantages of high-tunnel gardening to the group. The Sicklers operate a full-scale commercial horticultural facility in Moatsville, near Philippi

In addition to the 12,000 mums they sell every year, the Sicklers also offer more than 3,000 hanging baskets of assorted styles, as well as bedding plants, vegetable starts and a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

“We began wide-scale produce farming when we discovered high tunnel growing,” Sickler explained. “We were able to work with the Natural Resource Conservation Center (NRCS) to garner grant funds that helped get the high tunnel construction off the ground.”

Sickler told the group that to make a living growing produce, plants have to be growing all year.

“This industry is very competitive,” he added. “You have to be the first guy to have fresh tomatoes and fresh peppers. High tunnel gardening gives you that option by controlling temperature and moisture.”

Sickler Farm started with one high tunnel, and has grown to accommodate five high tunnels and one greenhouse.

Although Sickler Farm offers an abundance of produce to the consumer market, it’s difficult, he says, to sell produce to commercial outlets.

“Growing food is not cheap,” he noted. ” Most commercial establishments don’t want to pay the prices for quality, organic food.” Although the road to commercial sales has been a steep one, Sickler pointed out that their Farm has made inroads to local resorts, Canaan Valley Resort being one.

Aside from produce and flower sales, Sickler Farm offers special events each year. Their Fall Festival weekends are slated for Oct. 7 and 21. Open from 1-5 p.m., Sickler Farm offers tours, hayrides, cider pressing, pumpkin picking and other fun options during these events. Tours are available by appointment. Sickler Farm is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and may be contacted via email, lisa@sicklerfarm.com or phone: 304-457-6615.

A short business meeting followed the program. Club president Patricia Mayes, recognized Vallie Goots for her many years of dedication to the club by presenting her with a Life Membership to the West Virginia Garden Club.

In other business, it was approved that the club purchase a gardening related book to be placed in the Elkins Randolph County Library in memory of deceased past president, Patricia Fitzgibbon. It was also decided that the club donate wreaths to the Library, with the wreaths being changed out by season.

An evening of fellowship and pleasantry played out as members enjoyed the fruits of their kitchen labors.

The next meeting of the Emma Scott Garden Club is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at S & T Bees, 222 Davis Ave. in Elkins. The program will include the importance of bees and the wonderful products they produce. Guests are welcome.

The Emma Scott Garden Club welcomes new members and information can be obtained by contacting B.J. McKenzie, membership chair, at 304-614-3079.