3 Pick-Your-Own Patches Offer a Berry Good Thing
When temperatures soar and summer berries ripen into sweet plumpness, many Tennesseans head to the farms that grow them to pick their own. Here are three spots that offer U-pick options – and lots of outdoor family fun.
Bee Sweet Berry Farm in Lewisburg
The first time Marshall County Farm Bureau members Michael DuVall and his wife Lee Ann visited Bee Sweet Berry Farm as customers two years ago, he says, “We just fell in love with the place. We didn’t want to leave it.” As it turns out, the owners were wanting to downsize, so they sold the 50-acre Lewisburg property, complete with beehives, natural springs, 10 acres of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, and a hilltop view of the valley below, to the DuValls.
With no prior farming experience, DuVall did his research, consulted with the local county extension agent and a University of Tennessee fruit-and-nut specialist, and read every berry-growing book he could get his hands on. He has since streamlined the process with pneumatic pruners and other automated equipment, and now maintains 1,300 blueberry bushes and 600 thornless blackberry canes with “the most indescribably delicious berries that you could ever have, pollinated by our own bees.” (Unfortunately, frost wiped out the raspberries.)
Many customers make a full day of it in June or July, hitching a ride to the field on an ATV, cooling off with popsicles beneath the shaded gazebo and enjoying picnic lunches before picking some more in the manicured, vineyard-like setting. DuVall encourages visitors to taste-test before gathering a whole bucket. His personal favorite is the Premier blueberry, which he likens to candy.
“Some people say, ‘This is like the Garden of Eden,’ ” he notes. “Sometimes people bring 10 or 12 kids and they can just run around. Where else can you go and bring that many kids and say, ‘Go have fun, kids’? They love it.”
Dixie Chile Ranch in Kenton
In 2008, Tim Brady was chatting with a strawberry grower about a half-mile from his Kenton property when the farmer told him that neighbors kept asking for a pick-your-own option at his 15-acre patch, which dates back to the 1920s. “Man, you’ve got the perfect spot for that type of thing, and that would sure take a lot of pressure off me,” the farmer told Brady. “If you’ll agree to do it, I’ll teach you how to grow the strawberries and help you get started.”
Two years later, Brady, a New Mexico transplant and Farm Bureau member, retired trucking company owner and veteran grower of chili peppers, planted his first plot of strawberries. Then an acquaintance gave him five-dozen small blackberry bushes, which he arranged in three rows that could be picked from either side. This year, he has added pick-your-own blueberries, which are expected to peak in mid-June.
In addition, Brady hosts pick parties for birthdays, anniversaries and gatherings of friends who want to hang out and do something different together. He also mans a farm stand for those who don’t want to pick their own. “It is a labor-intensive thing to pick strawberries,” he admits. “A lot of the people who remember picking at [the nearby farm] are in their 70s and 80s now and, although I have a couple of 80-year-olds that can outpick some of the 20-year-olds, I’ve got a few that are a little unsteady on their feet. So we pick the strawberries for them.”
Among the most popular varieties are Chandler, a soft berry with a short shelf life; Flavorfest, which is similar to Chandler but yields twice as much; and Albion, a large, sweet selection that freezes easily and looks beautiful as a plate decoration.
“Typically when you get a large chocolate-covered strawberry for Valentine’s Day,” Brady says, “it’s an Albion.”
But the best part of running a U-pick operation, he says, is the “neighbor aspect of it. I’ve got a lot of locals, although I’ve also had people come all the way from Memphis or Mississippi that grew up in the area and make a special trip here so they can come and remember picking strawberries as a child with Grandmother. It allows us to have direct relationships develop with our neighbors.”
Thedford’s Blueberry Patch in Spring City
When a friend expressed a desire to scale back and get rid of some of her blueberry plants, Thea County Farm Bureau members Brenda and Bill Thedford grabbed their shovels and dug up enough to start a pick-your-own business on the couple’s 47-acre former cattle farm two miles from Spring City.
That was two decades ago. Today, Thedford’s Blueberry Patch features about 150 Rabbiteye blueberry plants, including Brightwell, Tifblue and Ozark Blue, for public picking on half an acre throughout the summer. Brenda Thedford, who is “kicking around the notion” of adding red and black raspberries, considers her mom ’n pop garden a “you pick, we pick” operation and takes orders for elderly customers and others who prefer not to get their hands dirty.
Still, she says, “Some people just really enjoy coming out. It’s just so soothing and relaxing to get in the patch and listen to the birds. It’s just a really nice experience. I think they like the atmosphere and the quality of the berries.”
If You Go...
Call ahead for hours and to make an appointment.
Bee Sweet Berry Farm
1442 Globe Road, Lewisburg 37091
Blueberries and blackberries, sold by the pound
Dixie Chile Ranch
Kenton (call for address)
Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, sold by the quart or 5-quart bucket
Thedford’s Blueberry Patch
100 John Deere Drive, Spring City 37381
Blueberries, sold by the gallon