By Laurie Paolicelli
Eno River Farm, which sits on two-hundred beautiful acres on St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough, is a seasonal farm market, with an indoor greenhouse, ice creamery, and an outdoor farm that grows strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, as well as seasonal crops such as ornamental plants, poinsettias, and herbs. Its existence is due to a young man’s vision, his uncle’s dreams, and a shared family love of farming, self-sufficiency and the environment.
The young man is named Keegan Czesak (pronounced See-Zack). Keegan grew up in Wilmington and spent summers on his grandparent’s farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He loved it so much that he spent his last two years of high school in Virginia farming potatoes to be distributed to Frito Lay. With a passion for the land, Keegan chose to attend Virginia Tech to pursue an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Management/Technology and Engineering. His capstone project included a highly detailed plan of a family-friendly pick-your-own farm that included sustainable agriculture, an indoor farm market with local products, and pick your own berries, tulips, and other seasonal crops. A longer-range vision included outdoor entertainment focused on old fashioned family fun such as a drive-up outdoor movie theater, local bands, and food trucks.
The uncle is named Jude Samulski. Jude was in awe of Hillsborough’s beauty, and when he moved to northern Orange County he bought land on St. Mary’s that was tapped for development. Jude was committed to making a valuable environmental impact on the neighborhood. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the land but was open to ideas.
And here came one in the person of his nephew Keegan and his capstone project. Together uncle and nephew willed an idea into existence: Eno River Farm.
“Driving back from dinner in Hillsborough, we went past a piece of property for sale,” Czesak says, “and we joked about what we would do with the land if we bought it.” Samulski, an entrepreneur behind many Biopharmaceutical companies, apparently saw promise in the humor. He invested in the class assignment. And so Czesak began clearing the land for Eno River Farm in March 2019.
Eno River Farm enjoyed a soft opening in spring 2020. This Saturday, November 28, from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. the public is invited to walk through the green houses and see the berry fields and poinsettias and enjoy ice cream and hot chocolate. The holiday open house is another way for Eno River Farm to greet friends and neighbors and highlight the farming that they are proud of. “We are now decked-out in holiday lights and seasonal cheer and we invite guests to meander our COVID-safe property which is equipped with reminders of social distancing and the need to wear a mask, wash your hands and wait six feet apart.”
“All of the strawberries are planted, and we hope visitors find it an educational experience to see the sub-straight, hydroponic farming methods. Even though the temperatures are cooler we will be serving our strawberry and other ice creams as well as hot chocolate. After all, there are a lot of places to get plants, vegetables and several places to find local ice cream in the area, but no place to find all three but at Eno River Farm.”
You can keep-up with all events on their website: www.enoriverfarm.com
“Spring 2021 will be fun,” Keegan believes. “In the planting world, spring is a key season. We look forward to having food trucks, local musicians, pick your own tulips and pick your own berries. We’ll also offer pre-picked raspberries.”
They’re putting in peaches and this spring construction of a new drive-in movie theater will commence.
Keegan said that farming and entrepreneurship is in his family’s blood. “My parents were committed to nature and health and we spent many days fishing and enjoying the outdoors. My first vision for a future farming venture came after a college visit to Cape Town, South Africa. I saw multi-million dollar homes at the same intersection as a man living behind a rock,” Czesak says. The sight inspired his future but also recalled his childhood in Virginia. His grandparents’ potatoes had supported the multi-brand corporation Frito Lay. “I wanted to make a difference. Something that would impact the community, not just make a mass-produced commodity.”
It takes a family to make a farm, and that’s never been truer than it is at Eno River Farm. It’s a kind of magic. How often does a school project turn into a reality, a reality all of us can enjoy and from which all of us can benefit? It’s a marriage of vision, desire and place – St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough, Orange County, North Carolina. It’s just another way we’re reminded of how lucky we are to be where we are, and of the remarkable and brilliant souls who surround us, and who give us so much.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.