The aroma of fresh strawberries fills the air of the farm stand at Country Road Strawberries in Pinnacle but Patty Brown says of the sweet fragrance that enchants her customers, “We can’t smell it.”
Continuous exposure to the enticing aroma of ripe strawberries may have rendered the Brown family immune to the smell but 13 years in the berry business has not dulled Kevin Brown’s enthusiasm for it. “Strawberries make you feel good. Whether you like to eat them or not, they make you smile,” he said.
Country Road Strawberries, owned by Kevin and Patty Brown, and operated by them with their two children, Luke Brown (11) and Emma Brown (13), and other members of their extended family, has been in business for 13 years. As Kevin Brown says, “It’s a family deal. All of our family works under this shed.”
Brown includes their customers in that family, some of whom have been buying strawberries from the Browns since their first year.
One of those customers from the early days, Jeannie Darnell, drove two hours from McArthur, West Virginia, to buy some berries on Thursday. Darnell’s relationship with the Browns goes back to their first year when she and her husband allowed the Browns to set up a farm stand in the parking lot of their furniture store in West Virginia. Said her son Tommy Darnell, “They turned a furniture store into a strawberry store.”
Since then the Browns have increased their acreage under cultivation to nine-and-a-half and are selling at farmers markets in Mount Airy, Winston-Salem and Elkin, making deliveries to businesses and schools and for the first time this year, they are selling at Mayberry Mall.
While some customers pick their own strawberries and others prefer the convenience of already picked berries, all agree that fresh, locally grown berries are superior to the berries available in supermarkets.
Brown grows a variety of strawberry called “Chandler,” developed by Dr. George Chandler, that was developed for plasticulture, a growing method where berries are grown on plastic. The strawberry plants grow up through black plastic which holds water in the soil and keeps the berries clean. A couple of weeks after the berries have stopped producing in June, the plants will be mowed down and then the plastic will be removed. In September, Brown will start over with new plastic and fresh plants. “It’s a little costlier to grow. Actually, it’s a lot costlier to grow but you get a better quality berry,” said Brown.
“In my opinion, it’s the sweetest berry there is,” said Brown of his “Chandler” strawberries. They have a soft skin so you have to handle them a little bit differently but it’s worth it.”
Berries grown for wholesale have a thicker skin and don’t bruise as easily. They have a longer shelf life but not as much flavor, according to Brown. Grocery store berries may have travelled more than a thousand miles and may have been picked a week earlier but the thin skin of “Chandler” berries gives them a sweet taste and smell that a thicker skinned berry just doesn’t have.
When a customer buys a gallon of strawberries at Country Road, he can be sure that they are freshly picked. On a good day, the Browns sell berries as fast as they can pick them. Their nine-and-a-half acres of berries can yield 400-500 gallons a day. A really busy day could be 600-700, said Kevin Brown.
Country Road Strawberries is one of four farms in Surry County that sells strawberries directly to the public. Also in Pinnacle is Bullington Farms and Dobson has Snow Strawberries and Cave Strawberries, according to Joanna Radford, Surry County Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Radford believes that strawberries are a strong “farm to table” crop in Surry County. “Knowing where your food comes from is so important,” she says. “Why buy strawberries that have traveled 1,300 or 1,400 miles when we have them right here in our back door? You can see who grows them and how they grow them.”
“Besides,” added Radford. “We have some of the cheapest strawberries in North Carolina.”
Country Road Strawberries is at 610 Mount Zion Road in Pinnacle. The farm stand is open 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7:30 a.m. until they sell out of berries on Saturday. Their Mayberry Mall store is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from noon until 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. They have booths at the farmer’s markets in Mount Airy on Tuesday, Reynolda Village in Winston-Salem on Friday and Elkin on Saturday. Berries are at their peak right now and are expected to continue until the first week of June. For more information, call 336-325-3331.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.