Family farm returns operations to Western Branch

Published 8:41 pm Monday, May 21, 2018

Wayne Clarke, 45, spent his Friday welcoming longtime customers back to Clarke Farm II in Western Branch, once again selling his produce at the family farm on Bruce Road.

Clarke worked out the logistics to legally transfer ownership of the farm to himself in the last year, hence the new name “Clarke Farm II.” His mother, Judy Clarke, also retired, and there were family health problems that delayed the process, he said.

“We’ve got everything worked out to just be here and not have to travel around,” he said.

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Clarke kept the business going in 2017 by selling his produce on Tyre Neck Road on weekends and at a farmers’ market in Hampton during the week. He was at Lancaster Farms in Suffolk the year before.

But those were long days for Clarke, who described waking up at 5 a.m. to load the truck, then drive to his destination to set everything up, breaking it down at the end of the day and driving it back to the farm to unload and do the books. He also had to squeeze in time to tend to the crops.

“My Saturdays last year were probably 18-hour work days,” he said.

He now has the convenience of a regular schedule without having to travel around Hampton Roads. He also made repairs around the farm and cleaned up the shop ahead of the Friday opening.

“If anybody was to walk in, they’d swear that we had never been closed,” he said. “I had two customers earlier today that were just as happy as they can be that I was open again.”

Standing behind his product under the adage of a “happy customer is a good customer,” Clarke’s family has built confidence among local customers with their produce. South Carolina peaches, cantaloupes, vine ripe tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and more keep business going. His farm’s continued partnerships with fellow growers both local and regional add to what he offers.

He also expanded his wares this year to includes herbs like mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, sage and parsley after customers kept asking for them.

“I can sell enough to take care of your recipe for the night, and I’ve also got some actual plants that I’m willing to sell,” he said.

His family started selling produce at the farm in 1989 when his late grandfather, John Clarke Sr., sold pumpkins that fall at the traffic light down the road. Clarke spent his childhood working on the farm with his grandfather, his late-father John Clarke Jr. and the rest of the family.

The trick to keeping the family business alive and well, according to Clarke, is to keep loyal customers happy by only selling products he’d be willing to buy himself.

“It’s just selling good stuff at a decent price and being there when people ask you to be there,” he said.

The farm is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Search “Clarke Farm 2” on Facebook or call 286-0154 for more information.