Rooted in the Mountains: Local family produces organic berries, apples

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, July 5, 2018

For Roan Mountain’s Ethan Gouge, life in the military had taken him around the country.

However, Ethan and his little family of three which includes his wife Katie and their little boy, Titus, have landed in the hills of Roan Mountain where the Gouges run Roan Highlands Farm.

The farm produces varieties of raspberries, along with blueberries, and roughly 30 different types of apples.

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It is currently raspberry season, and the farm offers a pick-your-own option during the weekdays by appointment and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Like all of the Gouges’ produce, the farm’s variety of black, purple, and red raspberries are organic and are grown with no conventional pesticides, synthetics or herbicides.

In roughly five years, Ethan said the more than 350 apple trees on the property should be producing 2,000 bushels. The 30 variety of apples include many that are not seen in most groceries stores such as Roxbury Russets and Virginia Beauties.

Along with the raspberries and apples, the farms also boasts 180 blueberry plants.

In 1956, Ethan’s grandparents, Robert and Emma Gouge, built the home where Ethan and his family now live. Like many in Roan Mountain at that time, Robert and Emma maintained their homestead in the mountains and lived a self-sufficient lifestyle.

“They had cattle running around, pigs, chickens, and a big garden,” said Ethan. “It was like many families in this area.”

Robert and Emma had one child, Bob Gouge, Ethan’s father. Bob was a valedictorian at Cloudland High School and graduated from East Tennessee State University before moving to Kingsport where Ethan was raised.

Ethan’s grandfather, Robert Gouge, passed away in 1985 and Emma Gouge decided to move away in 2000. With no one around to take care of the property, the land began to grow up and the house began to deteriorate. Seeing the condition the property was in made Ethan want to move to Roan Mountain to take care of his family’s place.

“It is such a special family place,” said Gouge. “Nobody wanted to see it deteriorate.”   

Before his move to Roan Mountain, Ethan served in the Marine Corps as an officer for six years during which he moved around numerous times to places like Washington D.C., Georgia, California, and Texas and even did a tour of duty overseas in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Ethan said he enjoyed his time in the military getting to travel the country but said that in the end he knew he needed to settle down and the mountains of East Tennessee were calling his name.

“Once the mountains are in your blood, you can’t get it out,” said Ethan, who retired from the Marines in 2013 before settling in Roan Mountain. “This was always home and where I always thought of coming back to.”

In 2014, the same year Ethan and Katie married, the Gouges cleared the land at Roan Highlands Farm and got it ready to begin farming. That year, the Gouges planted 350 apple trees and 180 blueberry plants, while also planting an acre’s worth of raspberries.

“The idea behind it is to have a full season pick-your-own,” said Ethan. “We start with raspberries in the middle of June. The apple trees are just now starting to produce.”

Along with the pick-your-own option, the farm offers frozen pre-picked berries on Monday through Thursday.

To learn more, visit Roan Highlands Farm online at