Strawberries: Go get ’em

It’s strawberry pickin’ time, and the pickings are pretty good, according to local grower Scott Witten with Witten Farm, just south of Beverly.

“We have several acres of strawberries and everything is looking good, although the season is a little late this year due to a cold spring,” he said. “But we’ll probably have strawberries until around June 20.”

The berry patch at Witten Farm along Ohio 60, between Lowell and Beverly, will officially open Monday, Witten said.

“We expect to see a lot of people,” he said. “It used to be that people would pick several quarts of strawberries to freeze or make jam and maybe save a dollar, but in recent years it seems to have become more of an experience families share with their kids.”

The R&K Wagner Farms in Lowell had just started selling pick-your-own strawberries Tuesday.

“You can pick your own or buy strawberries at our farm stand. We’ve been doing pretty good so far today,” said Krisa Lang, who works at the farm stand, on Tuesday.

Strawberry picking is already in full swing at the Stacy Family Farm’s new location along Ohio 7 in Reno.

“We planted about five acres last fall, mostly berries, and opened for people to pick their own last week,” said owner Bill Stacy whose family operates the farm.

He said the pick-your-own business has been brisk.

“People have been here every day. We were picked out at one point over the weekend and had to close at noon Saturday and Sunday,” Stacy said. “But we irrigated the fields and after 12 to 15 hours the ripe strawberries were back.”

Kim Mommessin and friend Bobbi Sue Lancaster of Vienna, W.Va., were loading a few pails of freshly-picked strawberries into their car at the farm Tuesday morning.

“It’s been several years since I’ve picked my own strawberries,” Mommessin said. “But I think they taste better than the ones you buy in stores. The store strawberries are enormous, but they just don’t have the same taste.”

Lancaster had also not picked berries for some time.

“As kids we used to pick strawberries with our mom,” she said. “Fresh-picked strawberries taste sweeter than store bought. And there’s a nice family atmosphere here.”

Eugene Haught of Marietta arrived early at the Stacy berry patch Tuesday and picked strawberries from 7 to 9:30 a.m., and filled a small wagon with several pails of the fruit.

“I’ve been picking strawberries since 2004,” he said. “I picked 56 quarts today and deliver them to people in town who can’t get out to pick their own.”

Melissa and Andy Burkhammer of St. Marys, W.Va., had plans for the berries they picked this week.

“We use them to make strawberry wine,” Melissa said.

Andy added that he also liked to buy locally-grown produce and support area farm businesses.

The Stacys will continue to operate their original farm in Oak Grove, but Bill said that location will be given over to corn and other vegetables that will be sold at farm markets.

He said the new location, on the former Ohio Department of Natural Resources tree farm property in Reno, would continue the Stacy Family Farm legacy of working with schools throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley, providing educational field trips for students.

Busloads of elementary school children from Tyler and Ritchie counties in West Virginia were visiting the farm Tuesday where Janet Stacy told them all about farming and farm life.

The students also learned about farm-related activities like beekeeping and meteorology before taking a hayride and finally heading into the strawberry patch to pick some of the fruit for themselves.

Bill Stacy noted the family received assistance from the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority in acquiring the 90-plus acre former tree farm last year.

“The port authority can see their efforts already paying off,” he said. “We want to make this a real asset for the entire Mid-Ohio Valley.”