Georgia Impact

North Georgia farm has successful growing season

Strawberries and pumpkins thrive despite pandemic, thanks to UGA

Johnny and Kathy Burt’s first year farming strawberries was nearly a disaster.

COVID -19 hit just two weeks before the berries ripened and their first spring strawberry festival was to begin.

“That wasn’t possible. We were on pins and needles and I figured we wouldn’t have much of a year at all,” said Johnny Burt, who has been farming pumpkins in the north Georgia mountains since 1972

Thankfully, the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center was there to help.

With SBDC assistance, the Burts applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan from Pinnacle Bank. They got the money at the end of April, in time to move forward with the strawberries.

The PPP, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by the president in March, covers employee salaries and other essential costs of business during a crisis.

The PPP money covered the cost of the labor the Burts needed to work the fields and paid for them to rent much-needed farm equipment.

PPP loan made it possible

“We were able to offer work in Aril to people that normally wouldn’t have had a job here, and get the equipment to work on one of our fields,” Burt said. “Without the PPP loan, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that.”

A fall festival with pumpkins, hayrides and a country store has become a tradition for Burt’s Farm, near Amicalola Falls, Georgia. In 2019, the Burts began thinking about ways to expand their business, perhaps through a second location or by adding an additional crop. They heard about the SBDC and turned to the regional office in Gainesville for help.

Patrick Fulbright, area director of the Gainesville office, worked with the Burts to develop a business plan for year-round offerings, starting with strawberries in the spring of 2020.

Doing well despite pandemic

“We worked on a marketing plan for a launch with the strawberry festival and all the strawberry products they could offer in their store,” Fulbright said. “Everything was set to go. We had the strategy ready to implement and then COVID hit.”

Now, well into pumpkin season, Burt’s Farm is doing well, with a regular stream of visitors keeping them busy.

This might even be their best year yet, Burt said. They plan to add more strawberry plants next year.

“[The SBDC] is a program that takes care of people and I didn’t even know it was there until just last year,” Burt said. “I’ve referred people to Patrick and he’s helped them too. They are top notch people, willing to help and they do an excellent job.”