Story by Dave Eckert
Okay, I know everyone, or almost everyone, had it with the heat this summer, including me. But there are many things to love about the summer heat, including the amazing fresh fruit you can now find in area orchards. Let’s look at some of the delicious finds.
I started my fresh fruit foraging with the blackberries from The Berry Patch, 30 acres of you-pick blueberries in Cleveland, Missouri. “Our family started the farm in 1975. Originally, they planted several other fruits, which failed for a variety of reasons. The idea of blueberries came about when my father, who also owned an irrigation company, was checking out irrigation at another blueberry farm. One thing led to another, and we now operate 30 acres of blueberries,” owner David Willis shared.
In addition to growing the blueberries for you-pick, The Berry Patch also sells blueberry plants, pre-picked blueberries, canned foods, jellies and jams, local raw honey, and they have a bakery that makes signature blueberry muffins and cookies each morning. Willis says they’ve also planted a new blackberry patch last spring. He’s hoping it survives the heat and drought so folks can be picking blackberries and blueberries next year.
Although picking season is over, The Berry Patch is still open on Tuesdays and Saturday mornings selling many items in their small country store. I asked Willis what he loves about owning and tending to an orchard. “We provide an option for people of all ages to get outside and enjoy quality time together. At the end of a visit, so many of our customers leave with wonderful memories and locally grown fresh produce, which tastes different (better) than the store-bought stuff! We love being able to give people a place to create these special memories,” Willis said.
Let’s head over to South Baldwin Farms, a wholesaler, which is located two miles south of Baldwin City, KS. There, I chatted with Gabe Spurgeon, Farm Manager and son-in-law of owner Dave Miles. “I started working at a peach orchard when I was 13 and did that for seven summers. I became an engineer but found I didn’t like desk work. I talked with my father-in-law about planting a few peach trees at his farm to do on the side. It snowballed very fast, and within months, I had quit my job as an engineer and started farming full time,” Spurgeon shared.
At South Baldwin Farms, that means tending to several varieties of apples such as Autumncrisp, Evercrisp, Suncrisp, and Ludacrisp, along with the more popular and well-known varieties like Honeycrisp, Gala, and Fuji.
Spurgeon says being local means fresher fruit for local or regional buyers. “It’s tough to ship a fresh peach across several states. But we can leave our fruit on the tree an extra day or two, which makes a big difference in flavor. Our variety selection doesn’t have to be based on characteristics like long-term storage and we can focus on what tastes good,” Spurgeon said.
Photos courtesy of Gieringer’s Family Orchard and Berry Farm
Finally, Gieringer’s Family Orchard and Berry Farm in Edgerton, KS where Frank and Melanie Gieringer have been growing fresh fruit since 2001. “We planted our first trees on a whim. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into a growing business. We grow a large variety of produce, including apples, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, watermelons, onions, tomatoes, a lot of different peppers, and more. And there are always pumpkins in the fall. We no longer do Farmer’s Markets, but we sell everything directly out of our new market building located on the farm,” Frank Gieringer shared.
Like David Willis at The Berry Patch, Gieringer says he enjoys sharing the agriculture experience with his customers. “We are a growing agritourism farm that allows families to come out and see how things are grown on the farm. They can also participate in directly picking the produce. This gives families a fun activity, at the end of which, they get to take home yummy, fresh produce. We’re one of the few places around that offers u-pick apples and pumpkins in the fall along with other fall activities and a corn maze,” Gieringer stated.
After more than 20 years, Gieringer says he also enjoys the challenge of growing different crops, including those that can be quite difficult to cultivate in The Midwest. Seeing families delight in those products makes it all worthwhile. “We enjoy families having a good wholesome time out here on the farm, whether picking or playing,” Gieringer told me.
Fall is almost here with a whole new set of local and regional farm experiences, let’s get picking!