PINEY – Dylan Collyge graduated high school in 2013 and started growing strawberries as a way to help pay his way through school.
Burl Doyle, a name synonymous with strawberries in Adair County, took a young Collyge under his wing and taught Collyge the art of growing Stilwell strawberries.
Collyge started his first crop with only half an acre of berries, but has steadily grown his crop and passion throughout the years.
Collyge now runs a 4-acre patch of strawberries with his partner Mitchell Yancey and his father Jeff Collyge. Their company is called Adair County Elite Ag and can be found on Facebook.
“It’s pretty much year-round,” Collyge said. “We plant in September. We take care of them from September, October, November keeping the weeds out, keeping them fertilized, sprayed. Then starting back about the end of February, first part of March we start running sprays again trying to get the plants to growing again. Then from there is just picks up and picks up and picks up.”
As strawberry season gets into full swing, Collyge and his partners can be found in the strawberry patch as early as 5:30 a.m. picking, sorting and packaging berries. Once the day’s berries have been loaded into boxes the team goes to surrounding areas and doesn’t return home until all of the berries are sold.
“We sell in little Kansas (Oklahoma), Salina, Stilwell, Westville, Lincoln (Arkansas), Prairie Grove (Arkansas), Farmington (Arkansas), Catoosa, Bixby, Glenpool, everywhere,” he said.
As a young Cherokee from Adair County, Collyge said he takes pride in what it means to be a farmer of Stilwell strawberries. Only a handful of people in the county still grow the berries, and as Collyge’s passion for the art has grown, so has his desire to encourage others to continue the legacy.
“I would try to encourage people to get into it so we can bring back the traditional Stilwell Strawberry Festival. Always been a shortage of berries since the canning factory closed. We’re just trying to help bring that all back, and if we can bring someone else in I feel like we’re doing our part,” he said.