Church Hill Produce
Doe Hill, VA
Michael & Kari Sponaugle
In 2011 after the invitation of a family friend to attend a strawberry workshop, Michael and Kari Sponaugle of Doe Hill decided to start their own farming story outside the family-owned farm of turkeys and beef cattle into the world of fresh produce. Michael’s history and love of growing things started when he was the Highland 4-H livestock judging coach and grew sweet corn as an annual summer fundraiser; it seemed a clear choice to expand on that idea.
So, in 2011, Michael and Kari purchased a black plastic mulch layer, rented an 8-acre field corn plot from a neighbor, sketched their vegetable field plan with a Sharpie on a large piece of a corn silage bag and started seeds in their spare bedroom…Church Hill Produce was born. The first crops were sold on-farm, through two farm stands and a weekly farmers’ market in Monterey; “extras” were taken to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction as production eventually exceeded local need. In 2012, the addition of a half-acre of blueberry bushes and raspberry brambles expanded the farm further.
In 2014 the couple welcomed son Jasper and in 2016 a second son, Clu. With two small boys and more demands from both Kari’s 4-H Extension job and Michael’s obligations to the family farm, wholesale marketing made its way into the production picture. In 2014, Church Hill Produce sold its first bulk order of frozen raspberries to Big Fish Cider for a special turn of hard apple cider, which has won several awards.
In 2016, the farm partnered with Local Food Hub to sell bulk broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries, strawberries and squash. Michael and Kari started attending Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) certification workshops and in 2017, Church Hill Produce passed the GAPs Farm Review and increased production to 25 acres. In the same season, Michael and Kari joined the Virginia Agricultural Growers Association in southwest Virginia to be able to hire two H2-A Agricultural workers, purchased a refrigeration truck and hired a driver, and were shipping produce three days per week to locations from Dayton to Richmond. Church Hill Produce was name Rookie Grower of the Year for 2017 with Local Food Hub.
In 2018, the increase to four H2-A workers on the farm occurred as well as the addition of a second refrigeration truck to the shipping fleet. The farm has experienced bigger commitments to Ashland-based produce distributor Produce Source Partners as well as weekly shipments to Local Food Hub in Charlottesville. They have also updated their certification to Harmonized GAPs (H-GAP) certification to ensure sales to grocers like Giant Foods.
Michael and Kari live on the family farm located in Doe Hill. Kari is the Unit Coordinator and 4-H Youth Development Agent for Highland and Bath Counties and is a Highland-Bath Farm Bureau board member. She sits on the Highland County Youth Coalition committee and the Mertz Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee at Bath County High School. Kari holds a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Ferrum College and a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech in Agricultural Leadership and Community Education. Michael is a Highland native and Highland High School graduate; he works full time for Hollow Hill Farm, with his Father and Uncle. Michael sits on the board of managers for Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center, or Alleghany Meats, and is a fourth generation farmer.
Church Hill Produce is not an agritourism location. However, for educational tours to potential produce growers, Extension professionals, educators or college and high school science/agricultural related classes, please call (540) 396-3639 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.