U-pick, you keep coming back

by | Aug 1, 2017 | Features

Donna Saathoff , right, and Nicole Barth have been operating Family A air for about ve years, beginning by just planting strawberries and gradually growing to include blackberries, blueberries, pumpkins among other produce.

One of the most exciting parts of spring and summer is all the fresh, seasonal fruit that comes with the warm weather.

Growing fruit yourself, while rewarding, is a lot of work. That’s where local U-Pick business, such as Fmaily Affair Farm in Easton, come in; they do the hard work for you.

Donna Saathoff and Nicole Barth have been operating Family Affair for about five years, beginning by just planting strawberries and gradually growing to include blackberries, blueberries, pumpkins and more.

Saathoff, noticing limited opportunities for families to pick berries in the area and having grown up farming poultry and grain, wanted to get back to her roots while also providing local families with a chance to experience farm life.

“I wanted to come back to the farm and I wanted to reconnect with kids,” she said.

She commented that now, most kids are generations away from the farm and have never really experienced or learned about the work that goes into it.

Growing up on a farm was a major influence on her personal work ethics and life, she said, and thinks it is important for kids to be exposed to that knowledge.

Family Affair Farm is all about the experience; schools visit in the fall to learn more about the process of growing crops and working on the farm.

Saathoff and Barth make an effort to teach kids who come just to pick as well.

Connecting with customers is a huge part of the job, they said. They have a large amount of families who return every year, to the point where they have become more than customers.

“I don’t think of them as customers, I think of them as friends,” said Saathoff .

To keep the farm running in top condition, Saathoff said they have to be constantly planning ahead for the next season. It takes a lot of maintenance, she said, and they even plant cover crops in fields that aren’t in use to keep the ground fertile.

For example, for strawberries to be harvest-ready in May, Saathoff and Barth have to be thinking about that as early as July because they begin to plant the strawberries in the early fall.

They work in the fields all winter long to keep the strawberries in the best possible condition, cleaning them off and pruning them. Saathoff said there are many 12-14 -hour days of work for them, sometimes going from about 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We’re thinking constantly about what we can do to have our families come and have a good experience at our farm,” Saathoff said.

In addition to planting, they also have to think about the best way to keep their farm environmentally friendly.

Barth, who teaches at Chesapeake College and has and Environmental Science background, does a lot of work to ensure that their berries are grown responsibly.

She said the farm uses plastic with drip irrigation, which conserves water. They also plant grass between the berry plants to reduce runoff and erosion.

For every crop, they take leaf samples and send them to a lab to figure out exactly the amount of water and nutrients the plants need to grow.

This enables Barth and Saathoff to feed them what they need without any excess.

“It means a little more work,” said Barth, “but the environmental tradeoff is worth it.”

Running a U-Pick farm is not just planting seeds, watering them and selling the fruit to families.

It takes months-ahead planning and preparation; intense, year-round work; dedication and most of all a love for people and farming.

But the result is a fun and educational experience for parents and kids alike and a family that keeps growing with every new customer.

That, said Saathoff, is what makes everything else worth it.