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Berry Fields Farm in northern Pennsylvania attracts visitors from all over the world

By Bil Bowden | The York Daily Record

For Charlie and Barbara Gerlach, building a small sustainable farm in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania was a simple thing.

A few buildings, an organic garden, maybe an animal or two, and a view so beautiful Charlie can only call it "spectacular."

As happens so often, things didn't turn out exactly as planned. The 51-acre Berry Fields Farm has sprouted outbuildings, a bed and breakfast, a restaurant and gift shop.

The couple tends to 10 goats, seven cows, 25 ducks, six geese, turkeys, a donkey, a few pigs, some quail and an always-expanding family of cats. They host diners, family farm vacationers, browsers and leaf peepers.

It's a lot of work for Charlie, 70, and Barbara, nearly 60. One of his guests said Charlie was crazy for doing so much work. And he didn't even know about Charlie's quadruple heart bypass.

The couple owned a general contracting business near Loganville until about nine years ago. One day, someone walked into the office and offered to buy the business. The Gerlachs had a month to decide what to do for the rest of their lives.

"We could have just packed it up and traveled until we dropped," Charlie said of retirement options. "Or put on our new sneakers and walked the mall."

But the easy life wasn't an option.

"We're both driven to have a purpose," Barbara said.

"Life's not worth much if you don't have a cause or a purpose," Charlie added.

Sustainability and organic gardening are their cause. They take it public by offering organic dinners and brunches on weekends, supplying the gift shop with organic goods and selling their vegetables, sometimes pulled right from the garden when ordered.

The New York Times listed Berry Fields Farm as one of the "Top 44 Places to See in 2009," joining places such as Stockholm, Copenhagen, Iceland, Tasmania, Sweden and the Galapagos Islands.

The "Today Show" filmed a segment there last month, but it hasn't aired yet. All the publicity has attracted visitors from across the country, plus China, Japan, Venezuela and much of Europe.

But it's still just home to Charlie. He hunted these woods when he was 12, and has owned the farm since the 1960s. There wasn't much here when the couple left York, but they cleared land for pastures and built the house first before adding the barn, dining room and bed and breakfast.

Charlie isn't finished. He envisions another unit for overnighters that will sleep six.

The building boom goes along with the farm's growing nature. It's becoming a snowball, and who knows where it will stop?

"We never intended any of this," Barbara said, pointing to the dining room. "All we wanted to do is be sustainable for ourselves, growing as much of our food as we could.

"But we soon realized we could provide a service, serving people healthy food. It was a service that we could spend our retirement doing."

"We could be like much of the retired population," Charlie said. "We could be bumping around, doing nothing."

But that would be entirely too simple.

Getting there

   Berry Fields Farm is about 140 miles from York, about a three-hour drive.
--- Take Interstate 83 north to Interstate 81 south to Route 322 west.
--- Take Route 15 north toward Williamsport.
--- Take Interstate 180 toward Williamsport, and exit at Mountoursville and Route 87.
--- Go east to Forksville. One mile beyond Forksville, turn left on Millview Mountain Road, and drive five miles, straight through a few stop signs.
--- Follow signs to Berry Fields Farm. The road eventually becomes a well-packed dirt road, and the driveway to the farm is a steep, hard, left-hand turn.

For more details, go to berryfieldsfarm.net,
or call 570-924-3019.

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