Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Marian and Jake Bridges operated Spring Valley Nursery on the Highlands Road for more than 20 years. The nursery began in 1997, celebrating and sharing a love for plants with the Franklin community. The five-acre nursery has always had a large selection of new cultivars and old-fashioned favorites for the landscape professional as well as the home gardener. The family-owned business has always been committed to old-fashioned quality and service and now under new ownership, the plan is to continue delivering that same service.

The nursery has been purchased by Greg Mullins and Stacy Bredendieck, who also own Winding Stair Farm. In 2010, the duo found the piece of property (the former Rainbow Springs Campground) in North Carolina and bought it as a weekend getaway.

The campground had been closed for a number of years when Stacy and Greg bought the property.  But from the late ’80s to the early 2000s, Rainbow Springs Campground was a welcome sight to thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and car campers alike.  Buddy and Jensine Crossman owned and ran the place which had previously been part of the Ritter Logging operations in the 1920s and then later, a fishing camp.  The couple moved to Franklin and further developed the property to include 30-plus RV hook-ups, cabins, a bunkhouse, a yurt, a bathhouse, a pavilion, a store and a laundry. Although the campground is no longer open to the public, Greg and Stacy still maintain the bathhouse and a picnic pavilion for friends, family and camping groups.

A few years later, through the magic of bees, Greg and Stacy met Michelle Ruigrok and Ezra Gardiner. What started as needing a caretaker for a vacation property evolved into the cultivation of a small garden which eventually became Winding Stair Farm. Michelle and Ezra live on the farm while Greg and Stacy go back and forth from Atlanta where Greg still works.

Michelle will continue to run the farm, while beginning Monday, Dec. 18, Ezra will be full time at the nursery. Ezra said the plan is to continue to run the nursery as the Bridges have for two decades, while expanding to offer things grown at the farm.

“Greg and Stacey had been customers of the nursery for years, and Michelle and I both came to know the nursery over time on their own. Greg and Stacy actually registered for their wedding at Spring Valley Nursery and got items from the nursery as their wedding gifts. We have always appreciated how Marian ran the nursery, they have done it really well, for a really long time. We were sad that the community wasn’t going to have that anymore after Marian decided to retire from the nursery so the wheels got spinning and in November Greg and Stacey were able to purchase it,” said Ezra.

The name of the nursery has been changed from Spring Valley Nursery to Winding Stair Farm Nursery. Ezra said the plan is to continue stocking the nursery as it has been in the past with the same products such as hardy shrubs, trees, conifers, roses, perennials, grasses, fruits & nuts, color, annuals, seasonal veggies, and native plants.

The nursery will also be a spot for products grown locally at the farm. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.

“I plan to continue our CSA program and be a vendor at the Franklin Farmer’s Market as we have been throughout the year,” said Michelle. “I hope to focus on a few products for restaurants as well. We like to have a lot of diversity in our crops for our CSA members, but restaurants have different needs so I am trying to balance those goals.I am especially excited to ramp up our four-season production, focusing on cold hardy crops so that we can have more fresh seasonal produce for our customers in the fall and winter without sacrificing quality. There are a lot of crops that prefer cold weather and that do well here with just a little protection from frost and freeze. It’s a different challenge than warm season crops, where pests and diseases are the biggest threat. I am actually having fun working with the weather rather than against it… so far.”

Michelle said that this spring, the farm will also have eggs available.

“Truly free range, organically fed birds,” said Michelle. “Our poultry flock this year will consist of chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. My dream is to get licensed to sell meat from those birds and from our rabbits.I also hope to focus more on our sheep wool, selling yarn milled at Morning Star Fiber in Andrews, which specializes in the breed of sheep that we have, Icelandic.”

Throughout the year, the farm produces things such as beets, radishes, kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, herbs, and sweet peas in the spring, with more available in the summer months.

“Marian did such a good job running the nursery that we won’t make any big changes, at least in the first year,” said Michelle. “We’ve been brainstorming ways that the two places can work together. I might have vegetable starts for sale (organic, heirloom varieties). I am especially excited to be able to buy materials wholesale. The savings from not paying mark-up costs will help us keep our prices low, as our ultimate vision and guiding force is to help make fresh, healthy food available to everyone.”

Ezra is currently working at the nursery full-time beginning this week. A grand opening will be held for the nursery on Saturday, March 3, when the nursery will be fully stocked and ready for the busy growing season.