Saturday, June 25, 2022

Strawberry season: Fewer places to go pick

By Sophia Afsar-Keshmiri, Chronicle Summer Staff

Iva Liebig, who died in March at the age of 95, was the long-time proprietor of Strawberry Ridge Farm in Granville. Chronicle 2010 photo/Mark Frost

It’s strawberry season. Picking opportunities are not as available locally as they are for blueberries and raspberries in their seasons, and there’s one less option this year as Strawberry Ridge Farm in Granville has exited the strawberry business.

Two farms locally that do have strawberries to pick are Hand Melon Farms in Greenwich, at 533 Wilbur Ave., across from the Washington County Fairgrounds, and Ariel’s Farm in Gansevoort at 194 Northern Pines Road (north of Saratoga Springs).

John Hand of Hand Melon Farms says the two farms are friends. “There’s not a lot of competition in the area anymore. I’m friends with Ariel’s farm in Wilton. And we don’t really feel that we compete for each other’s customers. There’s not a lot of other places nearby.”

Catherine Ariel of Ariel’s Farm says, “A lot of our customers were from the North Country, as far up as Brant Lake.”

Both farmers believe the limited U-pick strawberry farms in the area could be a generational issue.

Mr. Hand suggests, “I think it may be an issue of legacy. A family grows strawberries, and then the parents retire and the next generation decides not to continue on.”

That isn’t the case with Hand Melon Farm. “My great grandfather bought this land in 1909, so we’ve been here over 110 years,” Mr. Hand said.

“My son says he’s interested in coming back to run the farm. He’s doing an internship to finish up his college bachelor’s degree from Cobleskill currently, and I think it’s a challenging undertaking for him in the next generation. But I’m cautiously optimistic that he’s going to want to do it, continue to want to do it.”

Ms. Ariel at Ariel’s Farm, in business for more than 50 years, says, “We need more young farmers.” She adds that there are not just fewer strawberry farms but fewer farms in general.

Strawberry Ridge in Granville is facing the exact dilemma that Mr. Hand and Ms. Ariel described. In order to take a new job, third-generation strawberry farmer Derek Liebig said he had to make the difficult decision to discontinue the farm’s strawberry patches.

“It enabled me to support my family and have a little bit more free time than I would have continuing to grow strawberries. So it was not an easy decision,” Mr. Liebig said.

“Like I said, my family’s been growing strawberries in this area for over half a century. And so I took tremendous pride in that business and what we’ve gotten accomplished.”

But the farm is continuing to maintain its blueberry and raspberry patches, said Mr. Liebig.

The farms face natural challenges, too.

“Strawberries are finicky,” said Rebecca Devaney, Community Horticulture Coordinator with the Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“It’s a highly labor intensive industry, the growing season is very short, so the opportunity for profits is somewhat limited.”

But local strawberries stay in demand.

Mr. Hand touts, “Most of the strawberries that are carried by the grocery stores are shipped in from other growing regions, and they’re typically just not the same. They are larger, tend to have less flavor, have been shipped a long distance, so they’re bred and designed for longevity of shelf life, at the expense of flavor. Local berries, I believe, tend to have a lot more flavor, but do not have the shelf life. They just won’t last as long.”

Liberty Ridge Strawberry Festival

Farther south, in Rensselaer County, Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke has a Strawberry Festival this Saturday, June 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rain or shine. Admission: $14.95 in advance (www.libertyridgefarmny.com) or $17.95 at the gate. Ages 2 and under free.

The farms says, “There will be strawberry shortcake, slushies, drinks & treats for purchase. The Barnyard Grill will be open all day serving hot meals fresh off the smoker & grill! Local strawberries will also be for sale in the Market Barn along with local produce, home décor, baked goods, toys and souvenirs….

“Giant Gerbil Wheels, Jumbo Jumping Pillows, Farmer Flinger Swing, Birdhouse Village, Duck Races, Farm Animals & more” plus “live music provided by Harmonic Duo! The Duo that sounds like a band….”

They have a blueberry festival July 16.

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