The time is ripe for picking first-of-season strawberries, and a Clendenin area farm makes it possible for Kanawha Valley urbanites to experience this sweet rite of spring with you-pick hours expected to begin this weekend.
Orders for fresh berries for Kanawha County’s Farm to School produce program are already being filled from the smaller of two strawberry fields at Country Road House and Berries.
“I’m seeing a lot of red berries in the larger field right now, so people will be able to pick their own berries here on Mother’s Day weekend,” said Angela Born, co-owner of Country Road House and Berries, in a cellphone report from the field on Wednesday.
On Mother’s Day, you-pick hours at the Borns’ operation will be 1 to 3 p.m., rain or shine. Weather permitting, Jasper, a Tennessee walking horse, will be available for onboard photographs and petting opportunities. Saturday you-pick hours are 10 a.m. to dark.
“It’s a great family activity for celebrating Mother’s Day,” Angela Born said.
Several Charleston area restaurants will feature strawberries from Country Road House and Berries on Mother’s Day, including Bridge Road Bistro.
In addition to producing strawberries from the 19,000 plants under cultivation on 2 acres of bottomland fronting Gabes Creek, Country Road House and Berries operates unique Airbnb-listed lodging in a barn loft, a 19th-century farmhouse and a root cellar.
This is the third year Angela Born, her husband, John, and their six children have produced strawberries at their farm, located about a five-minute drive from the Clendenin exit of Interstate 79.
John and Angela Born met in St. Louis, where Angela, a St. Albans native, had moved to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics at St. Louis University. While in Missouri, one of the high points of the summer for the Born family was picking fresh fruit and berries from the orchards and fields of area farmers.
Angela Born said she missed West Virginia while living in Missouri, and became more anxious to return as years went by.
“If you’re from here and move away, there’s something about West Virginia — the community, the culture — that you can’t help but miss,” she said. “And I wanted our children to spend part of their childhood growing up in West Virginia” and getting better acquainted with their grandparents, she said.
With a vision of moving back to West Virginia to a farm within easy driving range of her parents’ home, the couple enrolled in a practical farming class that met every Saturday for a year, and included sessions on growing and marketing strawberries. Next, the couple began scouting for West Virginia land to buy.
They looked at several properties, including one in Putnam County that involved an extended drive along a winding road to reach, giving John Born a touch of motion sickness.
“Here, we’re in a beautiful place, just a few minutes off the interstate,” he said.
The couple learned of the availability of the 93-acre farm and its 130-year-old farmhouse, where the family now lives, from a customer of Angela Born’s father, Loop Pharmacy operator William McFarland. Upon viewing the property, it was pretty much love at first sight.
The Borns produced their first crop of strawberries here in 2017.
“Most of our sales then were you-pick,” John Born said.
Despite a setback from an April frost, last year’s crop was abundant enough to hire high-school-age pickers to gather berries for sale to area schools, the Capitol Market and other venues, in addition to supplying you-pick customers.
This year’s frost-free crop is expected to keep pickers busy through Memorial Day weekend.
The Borns’ plantation features the early ripening Chandler variety of strawberry.
“They are exceptionally sweet and large,” John Born said. “They put out four sets of flowers, so you have a lot of berries coming in at the same time, which is perfect for you-pick,” said his wife.
You-pick hours at the farm are from 5 p.m. to dark, Mondays through Fridays, beginning next week. Regular Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to dark, while Sunday hours will be 1 to 6 p.m., after Mother’s Day.
Cost is $3.75 per pound. Freshly pre-picked berries also will be available.
Those planning to pick their own berries are urged to check Country Road House and Berries’ Facebook page before traveling to the farm for any changes in schedule, which occasionally happen following days of unusually heavy picking.
Pickers may use the farm’s pails for gathering their berries, but are urged to bring their own containers for transporting the berries home.
The berries also are available for purchase at Charleston’s Capitol Market on Fridays and Saturdays, and at Coal River Coffee, in St. Albans, on Saturdays.
Special events this berry season include Playdate Preschool Picking on May 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, and a jam-making demonstration and tasting on May 18, starting at 3 p.m.
To reach Country Road House and Berries, take Interstate 79 north to the Clendenin exit, and follow U.S. 119 north toward Spencer. Shortly after passing the green highway sign marking the Roane County line, turn left onto Gabe Road and follow it for about 1 mile to the farm.