Strawberry Season… It’s The Best Season!

.

IMG_9629-001

.

Good morning friends!  I’m so happy to introduce you to Dennison’s Family Farm and my new friend Wayve (don’t you love that name?) Dennison.  Guess how I met Wayve?  Through this Farmgirl blog of MaryJanes!  She was reading along one day wondering what part of Tennessee I lived in, then after realizing it looked close to home, she emailed me and asked where I live… and here I am.  On a tour of their family strawberry farm!

.

IMG_9645-001

.

A little back-story here before we get too involved in the tour.  As most of you know, my husband and I moved here to Tennessee from out West where it is a desert paradise that doesn’t really sustain life.  There was no such thing as fresh strawberries, unless you managed to keep a few alive in your strawberry patch and got to enjoy the 20 – 30 tiny berries that made it to ripe without the huge Desert Spiny Lizards eating them.  So since moving to Tennessee four years ago, I have visited Dennison’s Little Red House (more on that later) to purchase their fresh strawberries every couple of days while they are in season.  So I was totally familiar with the strawberries from Dennison’s Family Farm, but since their farm is not a YouPick I had never actually had the privilege of being on the farm.  Lucky for all of us today that when I sent a message to Wayve asking if I could come to the farm and hang out with her, take pictures, ask a million questions, and be a complete nuisance (and all of this during their busiest season) she said YES!  So, that is what brings us to the farm for this fun tour… lets get started!

.

IMG_9471-001

.

I arrived first thing in the morning so that I could watch all the in’s and out’s of strawberry picking.  The whole crew gathered around as Wayve gave instructions for the day.  (Do you know that I was kind of nervous?  I felt like I was on my first day of a new job!)

.

IMG_9480-001

.

We walked out to the fields and oh my goodness.  The plants were so beautiful.  I’ve been to YouPick Strawberry Farms before so I’m familiar with how the plants look in the field, but the first thing I noticed was how huge and beautiful these were.

.

IMG_9550-001

.

I was kind of in love with the old tractor and the even cuter old wagon that Wayve drove down the lane into the field.

.

IMG_9488-001

.

The workers didn’t waste any time getting started.  When they say picking strawberries is back breaking work, it really is.  I was impressed with how fast these men and women were in picking.

.

IMG_9524-001

.

They were picking with both hands flying.  Wayve told me that the first run of berries were quite large and the pickers could fill a gallon basket in 3 minutes!

.

IMG_9505-001

.

About that time Wayve’s Daddy, the real boss of the farm (smile) backed his darling old truck down the lane up to the wagon.  He is a special man, let me tell you.  I just wanted to be like glue and stick to his side!

.

IMG_9535-001

.

As the workers came with their full strawberry buckets they placed them in a box set up on the back of the wagon.  Once the box was full (3 one gallon buckets of strawberries), Mr. Dennison put the lid on the box and moved it to the back of his truck.  He had a good system that ran like clock work, but the good thing is that in between this he had time to answer my many questions and talk about the berries.

.

IMG_9519-001

.

In the mean time I was just enjoying observing, listening, nibbling on a strawberry here and there, and soaking it all in.  One thing I noticed was that Wayve wasn’t afraid to get in the field and pick berries alongside her pickers.

.

IMG_9608-001

.

I noticed this same thing later in her brother, Frank, when he joined us.  I found that very impressive.

.

IMG_9556-001

.

Once Mr. Dennison had 25 boxes (75 gallons of berries) loaded in his truck he and I drove out of the field to their market building where they were unloaded and placed on pallets.

.

IMG_9555-001

.

Then they were immediately moved into this very large refrigerated room.

.

IMG_9562-001

.

Frank and Wayve discussed how many gallons of berries would go to each of their farm stand locations and how many to reserve back for a school fund raiser that was happening that day.

.

IMG_9553-001

.

This is Barbara, she is Wayve’s right hand help in the market area where she loads, unloads, cleans, organizes and smiles the whole time.  (All I could think was, “I want to learn to drive a fork lift!)

.

IMG_9572-001

.

The ladies that operate the farm stands (Little Red Houses) began arriving to get their berries for the day.  If I heard correctly I think they loaded 66 gallons of berries in this vehicle.   I loved standing back and watching and listening to the camaraderie between all the ladies as they calculated, figured and loaded.  Wayve said something that really stuck with me that day, “This farm operates on trust”.  And you could see it in the interaction.

.

IMG_9552-001

.

After the Little Red House ladies got on their way, Wayve and I jumped in the golf cart and she took me on a tour of the farm where she showed me the irrigation system…

.

IMG_9585-001

.

… the natural insect control (love the part the Martins play in taking care of the insects in the field) …

.

IMG_9590-001.

… the beautiful wheat cover crop where last year’s berries were planted…

.

IMG_9591-001

.

… the gorgeous view of the farm fields that go to the trees and beyond.

.

IMG_9625-001

.

I said goodbye to Wayve (but I’ll be back for a visit when strawberry season is over!) and headed into town to one of The Little Red Houses where the ladies sell the strawberries.

.

IMG_9640-001

.

Let me tell  you, these are the cutest houses.  They catch your attention and suddenly you remember, “I need to buy strawberries today”!

.

IMG_9637-001

.

This is Carrie.  I’ve been buying my strawberries from her Little Red House for the last few weeks, but yesterday I actually got to visit with her and discuss her part of the strawberry business!  These gals go to the farm to pick up the berries and man their Little Red House six days a week during the strawberry season.  Carrie has done this for several years.  Her mother, Becky, has done it at another Little Red House for 11 years!

.

IMG_9643-001

.

After the time spent on the farm, asking questions and soaking in the answers here are a few things I learned about farming strawberries that I never knew before.

.

IMG_9642-001

.

Strawberries love warmth, but not heat.  They need water, but not flooding.  So the weather has to be just right in order to get a great strawberry crop.  This year we’ve had beautiful warm sunny days and no rain for about a month, so the strawberries have been thriving.  Wayve said she hardly remembers a season as good as this one for the berries.  (The berry plants are watered with a drip system so they get the exact amount of water they need.)

.

IMG_9531-001

.

Even though strawberry plants are perennials, they are treated as annuals.  So after all the strawberries are harvested, the land is fertilized and plowed.  In September the rows are formed again and fresh, new strawberry plants are planted.  It takes many months for them to settle in and to be ready to produce in the spring.

.

IMG_9495-001

.

The plants require continual care through the winter to keep them from freezing.  And also to keep them from getting too warm and blooming.  Row covers (put on and taken off as necessary) and water are used to care for them during those winter months.

.

IMG_9588-001

.

Strawberry farming is one of the most labor intensive fruits I can think of!  The steps taken to grow this amazing fruit is incredible.  My head was spinning.

.

IMG_9783-001

.

Farm fresh and vine ripened strawberries will be red on the outside… AND on the inside. They will be incredibly sweet and dripping with juice. They taste absolutely nothing like the strawberries you buy in the store, even ones labeled organic.  Commerically grown strawberries for the big box stores pick their berries before they fully ripen, they will continue to turn red but they will not form that amazing deep red, sweet and juicy inside that you get from strawberries allowed to ripen on the vine.  That is why those store bought strawberries tend to be white on the inside.

.

IMG_9781-001

.

The strawberries at Dennison’s seem even sweeter to me than some I’ve tasted from other farms.  Mr. Dennison explained to me that here on their farm the water from their well comes from below bedrock (about 100 feet) and it has sulphur in it.  That seems to make for very special strawberries.  I’m wondering if that is what made the plants so big and beautiful too.

.

IMG_9619-001

.

I think one of the most important things I came away with was this:  I am thankful for farmers that work hard to bring us tasty, fresh, safe, and beautiful fruit.  It is truly a labor of love.  And I will do everything I can to buy produce from my local farmers, because it truly is a privilege to do so.

..

IMG_9543-001

.

I learned WAY more than I can ever put in this one blog post.   I appreciate the time that Wayve and her Daddy took out of their busy day to educate me and I think I just may ask if I can go back in September and watch the planting!  Maybe I can take you too!

.

Thank you for coming along with me today on the tour of Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tennessee.  I’m glad you came!

.

Until our gravel roads cross again… so long.

.

Dori

 

 

 

Leave a comment 35 Comments

  1. Karen says:

    I love Dennison’s strawberries!!!!!!!! We live close to them too!!!
    I really enjoy your post in the Farmgirl blog and can’t wait to visit your little wagon for Fresh Flowers this summer. I planted Zinnia’s this year too in our garden!!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Karen!

      Message my daughter and I on our Farm Fresh Facebook sometime this summer when you are headed over to buy flowers and I’ll meet you at our flower cart so we can meet in person! Hopefully the end of June we’ll have flowers out there! :-)

      Yes, Dennison’s strawberries are THE BEST!!

      – Dori –

  2. kim says:

    Awesome post – thank you for sharing this lovely family farm. I do hope you go back in September and share the trip with us readers. Best, Kim

  3. Kristy says:

    I hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship and we’ll see Wayve when the strawberries are not in season.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Kristy,

      I’m thinking that all they do at their farm is something we will all enjoy many more times in the future! Aren’t new friends the best?! :-)

      – Dori –

  4. Adrienne says:

    Here in San Francisco, we’re blessed to be surrounded by organic farms and farmers markets every day but Monday. Nothing beats fresh produce and knowing the grower makes your meals even more special. My friend bought me a Vitamix so I like to freeze some of the strawberries, pour them into the container and in 45 seconds, have fresh strawberry sherbet (I’m lactose intolerant). Even with the drought, we’ve had some amazing berries and I’m always grateful to our growers for their hard work.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Adrienne,

      Thank you so much for writing – I think it is so wonderful that there are farmers markets, even in the middle of big cities, and that there are farmers willing to provide us with such first class produce. And oh, your strawberry sherbet sounds so yummy.

      – Dori –

  5. Wayve says:

    Well this makes all the work worth it! Thanks so much for the tribute to local food, Dori. You are welcome, always.

    • Wayve says:

      Thank you for including our family in your post. As you can see, farming is not just womans’ work! Frank grows and manages everything, while Daddy hauls it in from the field and keeps all the weeds and grass cut. He won’t be 90 until September! He is happiest when being useful, as are we all.

      • Dori Troutman says:

        Wayve,

        It was such an honor to be there and the more I think about it, the more in awe I am of all you all do. It was a huge highlight for me for sure.

        – Dori –

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Wayve,

      I’m still soaking up the fun day!

      – Dori –

  6. Jaimey says:

    I want to live closer to that farm. It’s an inspiration to go buy some strawberry plants for my tiny patio garden. Thanks!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Jaimey,

      I am so thankful to live here in Tennessee where I get to be close to farms like this one. It makes me seriously happy!

      – Dori –

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for posting about this! Our farm share has provided us with some strawberries, but these are just beautiful. Road trip to Tennessee??

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Yes… road trip to Tennessee! But make it soon. I bet the strawberries don’t go for too much longer. :-(

      – Dori –

  8. Ann says:

    What a wonderful post! Very enlightening and makes me want to go to my nearest strawberry farm in my area to pick and/or buy some right away. Thanks for sharing.
    Ann

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Ann,

      Yes for sure… if you have a strawberry farm nearby then GO! :-) Oh, there is nothing like it is there?

      – Dori –

  9. Marcia says:

    Living in Florida, well we are partial to Plant City Strawberries…but those berries really looked wonderful! May even have to put Dennison’s on my list of places to visit when I retire(ha,ha). My best friend lives in Plant City so may have to get her up there also!

    Marcia

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Marcia,

      I imagine strawberries from different soils, climates, etc. would taste different. These are so incredible that we have been eating them like candy! And none of us are tired of them! Thanks for writing!

      – Dori –

  10. bonnie ellis says:

    Wow! that’s quite an operation. Here in Minnesota we can harvest the strawberries in June. They are varieties that can take the extreme cold we have. We grow some in our garden and they are extra special. Thanks to the Dennison’s for sharing this great story and to you for telling it to us.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Bonnie,

      It is interesting the different varieties, isn’t it? That is the next thing I’d like to learn from the Dennison’s. They have numerous varieties planted and she told me the names, but I knew I couldn’t do it justice. Another blog post sometime?! :-)

      – Dori –

  11. Marvene says:

    Dori is my husband’s niece. We are so proud and awed at her gentle spirit in sharing so many wonderful ideas. My mouth watered up at all the pictures of those strawberries. My mother, born in AZ in 1909 tried all her life to grow strawberries, never had good luck — could it be, too hot and not much water in this dry desert?

    Great article, Dori. Ms

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Dear Aunt Marvene,

      Thank you for writing here. I miss you.

      Mom used to have a nice strawberry patch in New Mexico when we were kids… but I remember watering continually and getting only enough berries to hoard for homemade ice-cream on Sunday! And Arizona would be WAY dryer.

      Hope you and Uncle Wayne get to come see us this year. Love and hugs –

      – Dori –

      • Marvene says:

        We are working on heading to KY and to your farm too, Lord willing. Keep on keeping on. . .

        xoxo Ms

  12. Karen says:

    I’ve known Wayve for many years and applaud her for going back home (after her amazing kids were raised) to help her family to keep farming! I’ve enjoyed those amazing Strawberries myself and they are by far the best I’ve ever eaten. Thank you for paying such a nice tribute to this hard working and loving family!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Karen,

      I would so love to meet Wayve’s kids – I heard such fun things about them. Thank you for writing to me, it made my day.

      – Dori –

  13. Karen(old cowgirl) Montoya says:

    Hi Dori,
    I finally have the time to read your blog again. I have finally moved in to the rental. I worked for 15 years in the office of NORPAC FOODS in Stayton Oregon. Right about now they are getting ready for our strawberries season also. I do not know if you ever saw it in the market but their frozen foods are under the Flavor-Foods label and the canned foods are under the Santiam label. When I buy Strawberries I go to the little stands like you. For a lot of years I made freezer jam with them. Even in winter you would get a taste of the strawberries out in the fields. You are making my mouth water. For the past 2 1/2 weeks it has been raining or cold. Not good strawberry growing or picking weather.
    Hugs Kay

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Hi Kay,

      I was thinking about you today and wondering if you are settled in your rental. Hope it’s going well.

      I have not heard of those food labels here in the South. But I’m going to make a point of looking!

      I’ve made jars and jars of jam in my life and this year I did not make strawberry jam. We just are not really jam and jelly eaters… I do make blackberry jam and jelly from the wild blackberries on our farm though! :-) Anyway, I put quite a few pints of strawberries in the freezer for winter time. Strawberry shortcake in the middle of winter tastes so good!

      Hugs to you… – Dori –

  14. Debbie says:

    Dori, Is there anything better than a visit to a real working farm? It’s magic I tell ya… and you captured it in this post. Thank you! Hugs!Deb, the Beach Farmgirl.

    PS.Maybe folks will visit your flower farm and feel the same way you did after leaving. No matter what people grow it’s a labor of love. Including flowers. You and I know that first hand!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Deb, thank you! I’ve been weeding in my flower garden 2 hours every evening for days and days and days now and I keep thinking, would anyone EVER want to visit this weed filled mess??? :-) But, I did see some buds on the Dahlias and some Sunflowers getting ready to bloom, so once things start blooming maybe the weeds won’t seem so ugly! Wish YOU could come visit.

      Hugs,

      – Dori –

  15. Suzi Henry says:

    I have been communicating with Wayve Dennison by email for several years now, starting when she inquired about real estate in my western North Carolina area. Her beautiful daughter, Nettie Grace, spends as much time as she can at our local John C. Campbell Folk School, and Wayve would dearly love to purchase a getaway cabin nearby–not that she has much spare time, as you found out! Last year I finally got to meet her in person, and she brought me some of her fresh strawberries. With a doubt, they are the best that I have ever tasted, and Wayve is just an amazing person!

  16. Dori, Thank you again for this wonderful article; we never looked better! If I ever get to be as good or as useful as you make me sound, I’ll be proud. Believe it or not, we will be picking strawberries again tomorrow, June 15! That is way later than last year. My daughter, Nettie Grace and our friend, Asher, who is visiting from the U.K., visited this week. We were happy to still have strawberries, as that was his one request. He must be at least 6’6″ tall, and not used to our hot weather, but he and Nettie picked one whole row. It’s a long way down to the strawberries from that height, but he was a trooper. He and Nettie prepared several meals while they were here, and Daddy and I just sat back and enjoyed the luxury. Asher made a dessert called Eton (“a posh school”) Mess, which is traditionally made of strawberries and meringues mixed up with whipped cream. Since meringues are not as available in Elora as in Eton, he made it with wedding cookie (“biscuit”) pieces, broken to bits. The “bits and bobs” of pecans from the biscuits added another layer of flavor. He and Nettie renamed it Elora Mess! So there’s a truly international recipe for our farmgirl friends. And it was wonderful! It is great to read comments from friends, new and old, and those I haven’t met, yet. Isn’t it amazing to be farmgirls (and guys) in a small world?

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Wayve,

      I just cut up a half gallon of your amazing strawberries for supper tonight. I tell you, I have NEVER enjoyed strawberries as much as I have this season… maybe because the season has been longer?! :-) I have loved every single bite of every strawberry. And I have a much deeper appreciation for them now!

      I would love to meet your daughter someday. She sounds simply delightful, as well as Asher. I want to meet him too!

      Our flowers are getting so close to being ready for bouquets… I’ll run one over to you when they are blooming big!

      Hugs to you,

      – Dori –

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>