At Oak Shade Farm, diversity is the name of the game. Christmas trees, beehives, shiitake mushroom logs, chickens and a large garden cover the hillside that looks west to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It’s hard to believe that about thirty years ago, the farm started out as a retirement hobby for Jim Mello when he bought the property and started selling at the Warrenton Farmers’ Market.
Over the decades though, it has become the center point for the entire family and almost everyone has a role to play during Christmas tree season. The farm and adjacent properties that Jim’s children now own, also serve as a space for other creative endeavors, including a studio where his wife Sally and their daughter Jeanne make beautiful hooked rugs.
Jim’s grandson Stephen recently decided to start his own career in farming, and he is reveling in the opportunity to continue what his grandfather started.
As Stephen shows me the new greenhouse that went up this winter, it’s clear that he shares his grandfather’s passion for this line of work. He and his girlfriend Amanda Martindale will continue to operate under the Oak Shade brand, but they will expand their part of the business by selling plants and more produce.
In addition to being able to lease some of the property, Stephen is able to take advantage of a loyal customer base. “The hardest part of farming is building relationships with people that result in a reputation for great products and Pops has made a lot of friends throughout the years,” explains Stephen.
With a smile that the community has come to love, Jim adds, “It’s been gratifying to see the change in people’s attitudes and young people like Stephen and Amanda wanting to be farmers.”