Sweet, Sweet Summer Berries
My hometown was once a town of farms and farmers. By the time I was a kid, nearly all of this was gone, replaced by suburbia, with only a few remaining on the outskirts. The exception was a fruit farm in the middle of town, surrounded by development. With its sign advertising the seasonal produce available – strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries – it was an agricultural oasis in the midst of our town’s sprawl.
But what truly made the farm truly appealing were their blueberries. Never had I seen such blueberries in the supermarket! They were nearly the size of grapes and dark, deep blue. They looked and tasted as if God himself planted the bushes, with the taste of history and craft in them.
Because of this glorious fruit, one of my family’s summer routines was visiting this farm. We’d often bike there, and refresh ourselves with headache-inducing strawberry smoothies. When we went by car, we would do pick-your-own, which inevitably ended with blue-stained hands and half of the berries inside me.
And then, one day, the sad but inevitable happened. The farm sold the land with the glorious blueberry bushes. The beautiful but most likely unprofitable bushes were pulled out for yet more houses. Something inside me broke; the memories of those days hardened just a little more. I think moments like that are much of what drives me today to advocate for urban farms and school gardens.
A few years later, after I had left for college and returned, the rest of the farm was sold. It was sad, but not as heartbreaking as the bulldozing of those bushes. By that point, I had become too cynical to be surprised. But it still pains me to think that when I drive by, that sign will no longer be there.
These thoughts returned to me as I was reading an article in Bon Appetit about drawing out the short season of strawberries. Realizing that I missed the strawberry season, I mildly panicked. As we had missed several farmers’ markets due to sleeping in after late-night diner trips, I racked my brain trying to think how we could obtain some strawberries. Pick-your-own, of course!
We settled on Butler’s Orchard for our farm, the same place we bought our Christmas Tree. Unfortunately, they’re pretty far out in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, meaning that we can probably never bike together there. This time, driving out, the weather was pretty nasty. As we walked into the store to find out what their process was for pick-your-own, the checker warned that the fields might be closed due to an incoming storm. Thankfully, they weren’t – yet, at least. We hopped in the car, drove out to the field, grabbed a couple of pint boxes, and hustled to the bushes.
I focused on picking quickly and well, grabbing bright, red berries and dropping them in the box. I clandestinely shoved a couple in my mouth, savoring the juicy, fresh sweetness. As it began thundering, I picked up the pace, targeting bushes with a careful eye.
After only 10 to 15 minutes, the farmhands supervising us started yelling that we all needed to get in our cars Right Away. The storm was here. I jumped over rows of bushes, clutching my pint box, being sure not to waste any of my hard-earned fruit. I was practically to the car when I realized that Chris was carefully picking his way around each row – and he had the keys! After he hustled a bit more, we hopped in the car just as the lightning started. Thunder surrounded us as huge raindrops splashed on our windshield. Joining the line of fleeing vehicles, we pulled into a parking space to hunker down and wait for the rain to slow.
In the meantime – we had berries to eat!
We shoved them in our mouths, unwilling to wait to bring them home or even wash them. Fresh off the bush, just like how they were supposed to be. We ate the rest of them over the next few days. But none of them were as good as the ones we ate in the car, laughing and watching the rain.