One thing he has going for him, he says, is ‘ambiance’. The scenic beauty of the Smokey Mountains and the pristine Tuckasegee River are hard to match. The rich river soils are also very productive, but in limited supply up and down the mountain valleys of western North Carolina.

Strawberries, whether grown for plants or the berries, is a high risk, potentially high profit venture. Darnell says on the one hand an acre of strawberries may bring in $40,000-$50,000, and on the other hand that might not be enough to make a profit — if things go wrong.

Looking out over a 10 acre field of strawberries, which grow to within 20 feet or so of the Tuckasegee River, Darnell says he should easily pick 1,000 flats of strawberries a day from the field in peak production. If things go well, he says, he could end up with something close to 400,000 pounds of strawberries from the field.

The North Carolina grower hedged his bet on the field of strawberries, with a second crop — not all together different than a grain grower does planting winter wheat and soybeans in the same field.

In Darnell’s case, he harvested about 3 million strawberry plugs from the field in the early spring, then refurbished it for strawberry production.

Growing so intensively can be an environmental challenge in remote areas of the country, but these strawberries are growing a few feet from a scenic river and only slightly farther from Bryson City, one of the top whitewater rafting destinations in the Southeast.

“We are very careful about what we spray on our crops, and if practical, we don’t spray at all,” Darnell says.

For example, mites are an ever present problem in strawberry production in the eastern half of the country, but last year Darnell didn’t make a single miticide application, Instead, he uses predator mites, most of which come from Israel.

The river that runs through his farm is consistently ranked among the most environmentally safe in the country. Darnell says the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) checks the river on his farm annually. Every year it rates a 60, which is the highest rating possible, he says.