Strawberry grower Nancy Edwards lets out a tired sigh as she points to what looks to be an alarm clock nested on her bedside table at her historic Wartrace farmhouse. Upon closer inspection, the box is not flashing the time, but the outside temperature. " I don't get a good nights sleep from the first of March through April," says Edwards." As soon as the temperature dips to 35 degrees, the alarm sounds and my brother Bobby and I are up and in the fields." The signal prompts the siblings to head to the fields and activate the overhead sprinkler system that prevents leaves, buds and flowers from succumbing to frost.
Edwards, along with brother Bobby Potts, who lives across the road with his family, have been able to hold onto an agrarian way of life by incorporating the finicky strawberry into their farm offerings." They are expensive to plant and easy to lose," says Nancy of the annual Sweet Charlies and Chandler variety berries that cover three rotating acres of the family's 350 acre Bedford County farm. After years of managing a horse equipment supply company, Nancy devised a plan to get back to making a living at the farm her family had worked for five generations. In 2000, she convinced her brother Bobby, who also tends to over 150,000 broiler chickens, to help her build the fields and farm store. Every spring the store fills with pints of fresh picked strawberries, award-winning jams, cakes and breads from sisters Vicki and Linda, honey from one of their 35 hives and famous frozen strawberry honey pops.
The grand Victorian family home and adjoining strawberry field is the centerpiece of an expanse of rolling hills surrounded by the small towns of Bell Buckle, Wartrace, within a short drive of larger towns such as Smyrna and Murfreesboro and an easy day-trip from Nashville.
"I knew when we started if I could get people here, they would keep coming back," says Nancy proudly." Our first weekend we invited the local press and all of the local home demonstration club for a strawberry recipe contest. We were packed."
And returned they have; Nancy and Bobby are now on their 8th successful season." We have people coming back year after year with their kids. Some come to just pick up a pint or two and take their yearly picture of the kids in the fields."
Nancy's family has created their own family traditions based around the strawberry fields as well." I wake up many mornings in the spring to find that Bobby's boys have come to the farm early to eat a breakfast of strawberries while still in their pajamas," says Nancy boastfully." They don't know how good they have it."
Life in the city has its own beat; usually a lot of hurry up and wait.
Experiencing the rhythm of country life by getting down in the dirt
and picking your own fruit is a great way to celebrate spring.
There are dozens of pick-your-own farms in Middle Tennessee for you
to get out of town, experience a bucolic day on a farm and eat the
cream of the crop.
Of course going straight to the source ensures you'll get the freshest produce available and often better prices (saving farmers an expen- sive trip to town) and a chance to see some of Tennessee's amazing countryside.
Setting out for a day on the farm to find your own food is the antithe- sis of a trip to the grocery store. Spend more than a few minutes on your knees in a crop row of rich soil and you are guaranteed to learn something about your food, our earth and a little about yourself too. After a day picking, it might make a little more sense why some peo- ple chuck the city life and opt for a quieter, albeit busy, life growing our food.
Spending a day at the farm requires a little planning, so don't let being unprepared ruin a perfect trip.
Dress accordingly: You're bound to a get dirty at a farm, that's part of the fun. Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes that can handle a little mud and leave your favorite new shirt at home. Don't get caught in an unexpected spring rain or cool breeze, bring an umbrella, extra jacket and even a pair of rain boots if the skies are cloudy.
Call ahead: A late frost or dry spring can stunt a berry crop. Most
farms suggest you call ahead to make sure their berries are ready to
harvest and the weather at the farm is good.
Bring your own gear: Many farms supply containers, but some
charge extra for them, so you can opt to bring your own as well. If
you're taking the kids out for a day on the farm, make decorating
you own berry pails a craft project to get them excited. Look for plas-
tic or coated metal containers that are shallow so the weight of the
berries don't bruise those on the bottom.
Protect yourself: Bring sunscreen, hats, garden gloves and refresh- ments or even plan a picnic lunch to complement your freshly picked berries.
Getting your pick of the farm: You took your time to come to the source, make sure you know what you are looking for. Keep your eye out for evenly colored fruits that are easily removed from the stem. Strawberries should be firm, with no less than 80% of the fruit ripened and the tell-tale fragrance of spring. Berries don't quit ripening as soon as you pick them, so if you are not going to use the berries the day, pick accordingly and not too ripe. To make sure your fruit lasts longer pick when the weather is coolest, in the morning or late after- noon.
Put your berries in a cool place for the way home, use the cooler you brought your lunch and drinks in. Berries will keep well refrigerated in an uncovered plastic container for 2 or 3 days. If your berries don't get gobbled up in that time, berries freeze well in a simple plas- tic bag with as little air as possible and can keep up to two months. Lastly, make sure you leave the farm in good shape for the next cus- tomers and the farmers. Watch your feet and knees to ensure you don't crush the easily damaged plant leaves and take extra care with small children, keeping them close at hand. And try not to eat too many in the field.