This feature on Farmer Mike is part of Loudoun Economic Development’s award-winning Farmer Trading Card series, spotlighting farmers as heroes to our community. For more information on the Farmer Trading Card 2024 starting lineup, please visit Loudoun Farms.

Even as a young boy Mike Ferster was drawn by a connection to nature. He’d venture out into the wilderness any chance he could get to explore his surroundings and just go dig in the dirt.

He remembers it well. For Farmer Mike Ferster, nature has always felt like home.

Born and raised in “The Pawpaw Belt”, Farmer Mike recalls his childhood as a kindred spirit navigating the hillsides of rural Virginia. From the time he was born, his life has been rooted in the curiosity and adventures of a kid whose heart belonged to the great outdoors.

Like a lot of people, growing up Farmer Mike had never heard of a pawpaw tree or the pawpaw fruit. That is, until one afternoon, he discovered a taste that would change his life forever.

 “When I first learned about pawpaw, I thought, ‘How did something this cool exist around me and I never even knew?,’” he remembers. “I decided to grow pawpaw to help teach [other] people and share the love of this special native fruit tree.”

Dedicated to spreading his knowledge and newfound appreciation of the North American Pawpaw, Farmer Mike started growing pawpaws on his land in 2017.

Fast forward seven years and what started as a small hobby project with 24 pawpaw trees has sprouted in size and scale to over 100 fruit producing trees.

As Farmer Mike puts it, Woodside Pawpaw Farm grows “All things pawpaw related! The trees produce pawpaw fruit for items like pulp, ice cream, smoothies and jam.”

Those familiar with pawpaws commonly refer to them as America’s best secret fruit, dating back to its historical use by Native Americans and early European settlers in the region.

Most who come across a pawpaw for the first time will think the fruit grows in the tropics; however, the native pawpaw tree is indigenous to the eastern United States. In fact, according to Serious Eats, pawpaws are the “largest edible fruit trees indigenous to North America” often found in rich, moist, well-drained soils.

The pawpaw’s flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical. Some describe the taste as an eclectic mango-banana-citrus mix that’s both thirst-quenching and palate-pleasing!

For Farmer Mike it’s an opportunity to inform, educate, and inspire the next generation. And it’s a position he embraces in what he now calls his life’s work.

“Getting to teach people about pawpaws and sharing a new fruit with them really helped push me to expand and grow into a full orchard,” he said. “I learned from a variety of sources; from my parents and other mentors, [reading] books and through a lot of trial and error.

Whether it is related to pawpaws, plant science, or how to repair a tractor, there is so much to learn, which keeps it engaging and exciting,” he says with a smile. “Every time I’m out at the orchard I learn something new!”

Ask Farmer Mike, what’s so fun about farming?

He’ll smile and lead you down a path back to his childhood days. Reminiscent of a small boy in his natural element as he explores the pure joy of being outdoors.

“Getting to work with your hands and dig in the dirt is the greatest gift. There’s something very fulfilling about connecting with the earth in this way.”

He never stops learning, never stops growing. He never stops exploring.

Farmer Mike’s inquisitive soul and love for nature is a magic that can only be found when one embraces life outdoors with an open heart and an insatiable curiosity.

And it’s his love for pawpaws, a fruit native to the area, that serves as a constant reminder of the boundless joy that comes from immersing oneself in the wonders of western Loudoun.

As he pauses to gather himself, Farmer Mike takes a moment to appreciate ‘why’ Woodside Pawpaw Farm will always hold a special place in his heart.

“It’s where I grew up! It feels really special to be able to grow something on the same land that I used to play on and explore. I feel very connected to this farm and the land it is on.”

On most weekends you can find Farmer Mike at farmers markets across Loudoun County selling his Woodside Pawpaws, or out in his orchard in Middleburg, Virginia preparing for his next harvest. Soon he has plans to begin accepting online orders via his website in the very near future!

Did you know? In 2014, Michelle Obama planted the first pawpaw tree in the White House garden to promote her “Let’s Move!” campaign to encourage healthy eating and farm-to-table enterprises in schools and communities.

 Be sure to check out the Woodside Pawpaw Farm blog for more fun facts and follow along on Farmer Mike’s pawpaw journey to see what’s growing next!

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