Producing Ground Cherries with a “Hillside Growing System” to increase production for selling fresh fruit and added value products.

Progress report for FNC20-1257

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $23,648.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Pepper Berries Urban Farm & Agape Grow Education Center
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Christine Williams
Pepper Berries Urban Farm & Agape Grow Education Center
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Project Information

Description of operation:

We are an urban farm working with other urban growers to maximize areas on their farm that are lacking in production due to run off, optimal growing conditions because of a slant. With growing ground cherries on a hillside we will utilize an area that is overlooked to grow on, it will help farmers not have stress on their bodies when harvesting ground cherries and it will provide the farmer with a high nutritional fruit to sell at market or for value-added products.
Our farm is sitting on 2 acres that we are growing on, farmer 2 has almost 3 acres and farmer 3 has almost 1 acre.


Ground Cherries are one of our favorite fruits to grow and eat. They are very hard to harvest since they are a low growing bush. When ripe they drop to the ground.  This is a hard crop to harvest  for selling at markets or to turn into added value products.  We want to build a system to make harvesting easier on the grower/farmer.  This is a product that is rarely available at farmers market and never seen at stores.  It is a very nutritious fruit that is lacking availability due to back breaking harvesting methods.  The health benefits are numerous.  They are low calorie, low fat and no cholesterol.  They provide a good source of niacin (B3) and Vitamins A & C.  Vitamin A is good for eye sight but also believed to help fight cancer.  Vitamin C protects against cold and flu, helps lower our blood pressure and protects us against Parkinson disease.  The niacin (B3) in this fruit is well known for increasing the level of high density lipoprotein; HDL in our bodies, this helps reduce the incidence of heart disease.  The fruit also has an abundance of pectin which helps regulate blood sugar.





Project Objectives:

2020                                                                                                                2021

  • Build 6 hillside garden beds 2 per farm.                                              Finish building the beds by May 15
  • Built with landscape fabric, second with vinyl siding                             Start seedlings to plant 1087 transplants and 50 more
  • Weigh harvest; sell fresh or added value products, record sales.           Plant all beds with transplants by June 15
  • Have 1 tour, 1 workshop, 1 festival, 1 cooking demonstration               Start measuring growth and outcomes June 15 - Oct
  • Write recipes, brochures and nutritional fact sheets                             Ground Cherry Festival September 
  • Decide design that worked and produced better.                                 Brochures down by September 1


2021    &    2022

  • Redesigned all 6 gardens to best outcome.                                           
  • Promote “Hillside Garden System” sheet and nutritional information at 3 conferences.
  • Give 3 tours/workshops, 1 festival, 1 cooking demonstration.
  • Weigh all the harvest from each garden, record all sales.



Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Daniel Neal - Producer
  • John Schroeder - Producer


Materials and methods:

We have been growing ground cherries for years and lose more production due to harvesting. They require a lot of low bending that a farmer just cannot do easily. We have tried sending our grandchildren out: they eat more than they harvest.  Therefore we have only enough for jellies.  Farmers are missing a huge market with this healthy fruit.

We are building a type of raised bed with treated lumber 2 x 6 boards on the slope of a hill. This will keep everything from running off when it rains.  The slopes will be 35 /40 degree.  We will do a lasagna garden, no- till bed using cardboard, peat moss, leaves, top soil and mulch on top.  In 1st type of bed we laid black canvas over the beds in horizontal or vertical strips, pin down. Cut 3” circles for transplants.  Put a gutter every 3’ down the hill to catch the ground cherries.

In 2nd type of bed lay corrugated vinyl siding that has been attached to treated 2x2 boards with 3” holes cut out for transplants.  This will be laid vertically for the cherries to roll down the hill into the gutters.  Put a gutter every 3’ down the hill to catch the ground cherries.

We can then easily harvest from the gutters by sweeping them to the sides. We can also keep the soil moist and weed free for low maintenance.  The beds will be the same size on each farm for measured results and right next to each other. Pepper Berries farm 20' x 20', Neil Farm 16' x 16' and the Schroeder farm 6' x 8'.

We will write an instructional brochure on how to build the system, make 3 videos to share on Facebook, YouTube, share at a conference and workshops. One will be a promotional video, the other an instructional video and the third an all-season video.  We will provide nutritional information and recipes.


Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 On-farm demonstrations
4 Tours

Participation Summary:

11 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

This year was a very hard year with Covid hanging over us.  We were behind in everything from building the beds to planting and not being able to coordinate festivals or workshops.  We were, however, able to give individual tours to farmers/growers and get them excited about our ground cherry production system.  Several are waiting to hear our outcomes and to get the plans to build the system on their farms.  With all the Covid going around we had to change our farm hands around especially since we had no volunteers on our farm this year.  We are behind on setting up all the gardens.  We will have a 6 gardens done by June 2021 for all the 1087 ground cherries to go in them.  Our 3rd farmer lost his farm this last July -- we had to make a decision that he would not be farming in 2020. This is why he never got back with you on the paperwork.  He was still hoping to save the farm but he let us know in July so we did not start his project. We started looking for the 3rd farmer to work with that had a hill that would work for our system.  We looked at several farmers in the area that wanted to grow ground cherries on a hillside and chose an urban farm in Kansas City, Kansas.  Talking Tree Farm farmers Ashley Meek and Andrew Bertrand 860 Quindaro Blvd, KC, KS 66101 have, which is 8.2 miles from our farm.  We have the supplies and will be building both garden beds in March and April.  Their farm will have the smallest beds out of the 3 farms.  I will have Ashley fill out the info for their participation in our project.

We will be also changing the size of these beds a little bit due to the hill and the frames that we made this summer for the beds.  There garden beds will be 4.5 feet x 12 feet wide.

We had to make some adjustments as we were building our 20' x 20' bed on our farm which is how the other farms will and have followed.  We were planning on building everything at each farm. We ended up making all the vinyl panels in our woodshop since it got so hot out so quick this year. This was much less taxing on my farm hands.  We did have to do a little bit of design change to make the panels sturdier.  I was going to cut 3-inch holes in the vinyl and plant in them but they were just too flimsy so we decided upon no holes and spacing the panels 4 inches apart instead with a plastic mesh right up to the plant stem to help catch any fruit that falls there. We also used white vinyl on our farm which was hard on the eyes when the sun is out and for the other farms we bought a grey/brown color.  I think this will be better for the plants to not get sunburned, easier on the glare as we work, and cooler for the plants. The system worked very well this year.  I am anxious to see all 3 farms have the system and the 3 garden beds that are done with black barrier and compare the difference.  

We are needing the extra time for our studies.

Learning Outcomes

11 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

While building the frames for the system we had to modify them.  We first drilled 3-inch holes for the plants to be planted through but this made the vinyl more flimsy so we opted out of that and started not putting in the holes and placing the panels 3 inches apart instead with a plastic mesh to catch any cherries that fall in that area.  This worked well and the panels were much more sturdy.  We also learned that white vinyl was not the color to choose.  It made it very hard to look at through the sunniest part of the day.  We chose a grey/brown color for farm 2 &3.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.