U-pick strawberries cropping up on local farms

Don’t worry – you’re not the only one seeing red. Strawberry crops are back on Delmarva, ushering in the summer agricultural season. Local farms welcomed the first berries around the first weekend in May. Farmers estimate that the picking season will last until early June, but only the weather decides if that means June 1 or June 15.

Strawberries grow best in the cool springtime weather, said Keith Johnson of Johnson’s Country Market. The market added an acre of U-pick strawberries in 2010, to complement the interactive U-pick pumpkin patch and corn maze it offers in the fall.

Good produce takes patience, but Paul Parsons said the bushes are loaded now. Parsons Farms Produce planted an acre of two varieties, which lengthens the growing season. The Sweet Charlie variety is early, but the Chandler variety will be bigger.

These berries are perennials, so new plants are planted in a new field each September, to blossom in May.

“Local strawberries are so sweet, and you can eat what you want in the field,” said Ellen Magee of Magee Farms. “Pick ’em, be outside, enjoy the fresh air. It’s the first crop after winter, and everyone wants to get outside.”

Magee Farms has grown strawberries for 24 years, occasionally selling wholesale to local grocery stores. Between their Selbyville and new Lewes locations, the Magees have 11 acres of strawberries.

Parsons said this is one of the best years for strawberries yet, noting that fully ripe berries are completely red, right to the tips.

Local berries can offer benefits over their remotely-grown counterparts. Picked at the peak of ripeness, they can be much sweeter.

“There’s nothing quite like enjoying a fresh berry in the field,” Johnson said.

Plus, customers who pick their own berries receive the benefits of exercise and fresh air. Johnson said families can use the opportunity to spend quality time together and teach children where their food comes from.

People of all ages enjoy picking fresh berries. An older couple or a flock of children may be picking at any given time.

“It’s good to live in an area where we can get fresh produce,” said customer Dennis Miller.

“It’s the best,” said his wife, Linda Miller, who picks strawberries with her grandchildren. “Anything you only get a few times a year makes it that much better.”

Purchasing locally also supports local growers, who often charge less than supermarkets.

One of the things most notable about strawberries is their sweet versatility, from desserts and jam to soup and salad dressings. Magee said she eats berries fresh, with heavy cream, while Johnson is fond of strawberry pie.

Each of the three farms will also have a daily market or vegetable stand throughout summer, but strawberry season only lasts about a month, so now is the time to pick.

Johnson’s Country Market is located at 36258 Zion Church Road, near Selbyville. Magee Farms is 34857 Lighthouse Road, near Selbyville. Parsons Farms Produce is on Armory Road, near Indian River High School in Dagsboro.