Merrell and Joellyn Collins established Wilderness Farms in 1984 on their property south of Vandalia, IL. Wilderness Farms consists of a patchwork of ponds, hayground, timber, tilled ground and fencerows, full of naturally thriving wild blackberry plants. Their ground, like a lot of the land around them, consisted mostly of “Post Oak” soils. These soils are a chalky, light clay, that are not as productive as the more fertile, darker soil. Being a good steward of the land, Merrell took the Wilderness Farms acreage out of the typical corn/soybean rotation and switched to hay crops to reduce soil erosion. The cover crops worked well to keep the soil, but were not very profitable, so Merrell kept searching for a better crop, one that would produce more revenue and be good for the land. After years of research, in 2010 Merrell was intrigued by a trellis stystem used in the propagation of blackberries. In 2011 they converted 10 acres of hayground to three thornless, highly productive varieties of blackberries, Apache, Triple Crown and Chester.
The blackberries, being a native plant and already flourishing on the property, were a perfect fit for this part of Illinois and the soil type on the ground. Merrell and Jo have found the perfect crop to provide a great tasting product while being good an excellent environmental advocate for the Wilderness Farms property.