COLUMBIA — Pick and Pick farmers Mark and Amy Pickering switched from shuffling poker chips to selling blackberries.
The two met while working in casinos in California. Mark had been in the business for 20 years and Amy for around 10. Both were tired of the high-stress environment and decided to cash out their Vegas career for a simpler life in Columbia’s countryside.
"It’s a whole lot of artificial stress," Amy said. "The money is not worth the stress."
Mark’s parents, Deanna and Sam Pickering, started Pick and Pick Farm as a retirement project in 2006. The two became fed up with driving long distances to purchase fresh-tasting produce from "pick-your-own" farms and decided to start growing their own.
As the farm grew in popularity, Sam and Deanna realized they took on too much. They called Mark and Amy and asked them to help out on the farm.
"We were kind of on the fence about it," Amy said.
Although Mark grew up on a farm in south-central Missouri, he knew little about running a farm. But when the economy slowed, the couple decided last summer to visit for six weeks and give it a try. After that, Mark and Amy packed their bags and moved with their son to Columbia.
Gradually, Mark and Amy have been taking over the day-to-day responsibility for the farm. The two will eventually run the farm entirely, but that hasn’t stopped Sam from doing more than his share of the work.
"I honestly think Dad is the hardest working human being I’ve ever met," Mark said. "My main gain goal in life is not to see how hard I can work — it really isn’t. But his, I think is."
Despite the recent heat waves, 70-year-old Sam continued to work in the field nonstop in 105 degree weather, while the rest of the family searched for shade and ran hoses over their heads.
The move to Columbia has been particularly smooth for the family. Amy is especially glad to see her son Coulter, who has Asperger’s, doing well at Rock Bridge High School.
"School out here has been so much better than California,” Amy said. "Just the change in him and grades and in enjoying school, for that alone it’s been worth it."
Mark and Amy hope to add more to the farm over the years and plan to raise chickens for eggs to sell next year as well as improve their raspberry crop.
Pick and Pick is open every day except Tuesdays. The farm is the largest private grower of blackberries in the state, but they also seasonally sell asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, pumpkins and more.