One or a Handful

Janet Stacy might be growing strawberries in the southeast corner of Ohio, but she likes to think that traditions also are cultivated on this family farm, a thought confirmed in the familiar faces she welcomes year after year when “U-pick” season arrives.

Farm Bureau members Janet and her husband, Bill, farm 31 acres with the help of their three grown children. “Grandparents and their grandchildren often make picking strawberries an annual trip,” says Janet. “This season will be the anniversary of one school’s regular spring field trip and we’re hoping to bring back some of students who were on that very first visit 15 years ago.”

Located just outside of Marietta and along the western shore of the Muskingum River, Stacy Family Farm has been in the family for more than a century, originally a dairy farm, once a truck farm, and from then always evolving.

“Back in the 1980s, times were tough for farmers,” recalls Janet. “We made the decision to stay here raising corn, cantaloupe and three kids but we both found work off the farm.” Through some thoughtful planning and number crunching, Janet and Bill decided that if the farm added strawberry production, a profitable U-pick crop, she could leave her job and stay at home with her young children.

“Little did I know that one day I would be sitting on the back of a strawberry planter,” she laughs. “We started with an acre and picked ourselves from late afternoon to sunset. When our customer base expanded, we added a second acre.” As her children grew, so did the farm. Today there are five acres of the ruby-hued jewels and eight of white sweet corn, a few peach trees planted by their youngest son and another acre of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

The Stacys plant three varieties of berries. Sweet Charlie is a high-yielding early variety that ushers in the beginning of the berry harvest. Camerosa is a new variety to the farm, one that Janet describes as a “shipping” berry. “This variety ripens a lot like a banana would,” she explains. “It will redden and ripen a bit after it’s off the plant so if you don’t get to it right away it will still be firm the next day.” The third variety is Chandler, a plant that produces larger, more delicate fruits that are best eaten or used for jams or recipes immediately after picking.

The strawberry patch is replanted every September, which not only helps reduce potential disease problems in the field but also means putting 80,000 new plants in the sandy, well draining soil. It’s ideal for strawberries, which do not favor wet soil or standing water.

“It’s work, but we have fun,” says Janet of the job and the company of her planting crew.
Social media is a useful and economical tool these days for farmers who offer U-pick opportunities. “It’s the only advertising we use and perfect for getting the word out quickly and to a lot of people,” says Janet. “If it rains here all morning, we can take pictures and show the conditions of the fields,” she says. “Our customers come from all over Ohio and West Virginia so it might not be raining where they are and being able to update them quickly is important.”

The Stacys take their homegrown produce and fresh-picked sweet corn to the River City Farmers Market in Washington County and farmers markets in Athens and Parkersburg, W.Va., but the berries remain largely a U-pick opportunity—a chance for people to get out into the fields and experience first-hand where their food comes from. Janet encourages customers to “taste as you pick,” to get the most out of the experience. “One—or a handful,” she says, knowing that sun warmed, red ripe Ohio strawberries are hard to resist.

If in doubt, taste
Janet Stacy delivers a short course to her customers before they head out into the strawberry patch. “I tell them the freshest berries they can get are the ones they pick with their own hands,” she kids. “The redder the better,” she adds. “If in doubt, taste.” She advises that when the berries are plucked from the plant, leave the stem behind but keep the green tops intact, which helps keep the fruit fresher longer. “This is fresh, ripe produce,” she says, “so go home and do something with it—eat it, make jam or a pie! It’s not like picking apples.”

Stacy Family Farm
135 BF Goodrich Road
Marietta, Ohio 45750

Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate and The Locavore’s Kitchen.