For Cheryl Epps, COVID-19 didn’t bring her a new puppy or air fryer—it was a COVID events business.
“Yes, you could say that the Loblolly Acres events business was my COVID baby,” Epps says with a chuckle.
Her life partner, Clem Birely, is a builder by trade and is not one to enjoy downtime.
“He basically told me early on that he needs to stay busy, so when COVID hit and everything shut down, I needed to find some projects for him,” she says.
She got him started by building a new barn, outfitted for indoor events. Then she had him renovate and make improvements to the Holly House, a large, open-air gazebo on a hill that Epps created herself years ago. (Note: If you are considering building your own hill, talk to Epps first—she’ll talk you out of it.)
They soon added a large outdoor fireplace and improved their outdoor stage.
“We have been busy this year, but I knew we needed to take action in order to keep the farm being a profitable business,” she says.
In the past, Epps offered school field trips and smaller events, but she is excited to host 13 weddings in 2022. During a weekend in November, Loblolly Acres hosted The School of Delaware Ballet for its annual performance of The Nutcracker in COVID-safe outdoor conditions.
“We love having this outdoor stage and this beautiful space available,” says Brittany Faulkingham, the ballet school’s owner. “It has allowed us to continue preparing and performing for our annual events and know that we are doing them in a safe way.”
Loblolly Acres has been an Epps family-run farm since 1964. Other than a few years spent living and working in the Midwest, she has lived in Kent County.
“Kent County is in a great position to become a destination for both Delawareans and those coming over from Queen Anne’s County, Maryland,” she says. “Many people already travel to Camden and Dover for shopping; it makes sense they would also travel for entertainment and the arts.”
Epps plans to host music events, including getting larger names to play for more intimate crowds and offering the chance to interact with musicians during a meet-and-greet cocktail hour after the event. She and Birely are also discussing the potential of building a silo with suites inside so people can stay on the property before or after their event.
Epps’ three children—two daughters and a son—are on board with all the work at the farm. “They have been very supportive and help out where they can,” she says.
“There are so many possibilities for the farm. We have already come so far from just selling Christmas trees and pumpkins,” Epps says with a laugh. “This farm has been in our family for four generations, and in some ways, I feel like we are just getting started.”
3893 Turkey Point Road, Viola