The pick-your-own season is here and it’s kicking off with a good crop of strawberries. We’ve been going to Jones Family Farm in Shelton since our kids were old enough to snatch a berry from a bush. Strawberries in June, blueberries in July, pumpkins in the fall, and, of course, Christmas trees are all better when you harvest your own.
I called Terry Jones, the fifth generation farmer on this land since 1848, to learn what picking would be like in the social distancing era. “This year is dramatically different,” he said, but he was talking about the weather. (Farmers always talk about the weather.)
It was a tumultuous season with a fast start in March, below normal cold in April, and long nights of fighting frost in May all leading up to what looks like a bumper crop. As his father used to say with a droll tone, “More fun on the farm.”
Strawberries grow close to the ground making picking an exercise in flexibility. The reward is perfectly ripe fruit, warm from the sun, seasoned with your own labor. You may have a few aches and pains, but the pleasure of the experience lingers on.
The first time we picked, years ago, we brought back a ridiculous amount of fruit. A hectic, unplanned afternoon converted it to delicious preserves that fed us for a year. Now we know better, only getting what we can use right away.
Terry went on to discuss the other dramatic difference this year: guest security and social distancing in the Covid 19 era. “We’re committed to making picking safe and enjoyable. It’s an act of faith that it will all work and folks will respond. After all, we have fifteen acres to spread people out.”
Logistics will be changed, but the sweet berries will be as good as always. The Very Merry Berry Ferry that took pickers out to the field will be discontinued. Like a bus or subway, you can’t keep social distance on a farm wagon. Space will be maintained between groups in the rows too. An appointment is requested to avoid crowding. Boxes will be paid for in advance, not weighed. Eating in the fields is prohibited. Good luck enforcing that!
There will be some picked berries available, if, like us, you don’t want to take the 20 minute or so walk to the fields.
The farm’s team of 15 college interns have been training for the new procedures. A select group of family and friends got to pick early, so the staff could perfect their systems. Everyone is ready.
“We’re expecting a busy season,” Terry told me, “depending on the weather of course.” “The word from farms further south is that demand is strong. Folks have been cooped up and want to get out in the sun.” What better place than a strawberry patch?
With granddaughter Moira, we visited the farm last week to get some berries for Father’s Day. A cooling breeze pushed some white puffy clouds across the fields. Terry showed us around the Home Farm where
already picked berries were for sale. Hillsides around the barns were covered with dark green Christmas trees and leafy vines for the Jones’ Winery.
The winery tasting room had just re-opened by reservation only for light snacks and a tasting of both traditional grape and fruit wines. We picked up a bottle of Strawberry Serenade, a sparkling wine blended from Jones Farm fruit and dry white wine that would extend our farm-fresh strawberry season.
Terry showed us the granite boulder where his grandfather Phillip carved his name back in the 1890s. It’s now displayed in the winery tasting room garden.
He explained that each generation has been allowed to pursue their own farming interest: dairy, Christmas trees, berries, and now son Jamie is growing grapes and making wine. The whole farm is imbued with a family continuity that is rare these days. It’s a case study in family business success.
There are more picking opportunities in Connecticut. If you want to head further upstate, picking is in full swing at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT. It’s peak season now, and the berries have “Excellent flavor,” according to farmer Lyman.
About an hour from here, Lyman is a recreation destination with kids activities, a restaurant, and several golf courses. To avoid the crowds, come Monday through Thursday and either early or late in the day. Payment is in advance of picking, by the box. Pay at the farm. No reservation needed.
Back at Jones Farm, I caught Terry in a reflective moment. He thought back to his father and grandfather and then proudly told me about his 12 and 15 year old grandchildren who have been pitching in on the farm this spring. With the sixth and seventh generations involved, it seems like the current crisis is just a blip in the long story of the Jones Family Farm.
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Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.