Want to go?
WHERE TO PICK: Hartley Farms, Cottageville
DIRECTIONS: Take I-77 Ripley exit 138, go south on W.Va. 62 about 8 miles. Pass Jackson County Fairgrounds, turn left on W.Va. 331, then left on Cow Run/Blaine Memorial Road. Turn left on John Deer Road and look for strawberry signs.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday
PAYMENT: Cash and checks are accepted as payment. Containers supplied at no charge.
INFO: Call 304-372-6993 or 304-514-9822
Judy Hartley's strawberry pie recipe is at the end of this story.
COTTAGEVILLE, W.Va. -- Judy Hartley chuckles as she considers the carloads of enthusiastic berry pickers who make their way to her family's Jackson County farm. She knows it's hard, back-breaking work to inch along the rows of low-growing plants, searching for the juiciest red berries.
Multiple generations of families come to share the berry-picking experience.
"For children, it's fun for about the first three minutes," Judy said. "After that, it's hard work."
Most customers seem to find back-straining picking posture a small price to pay for fresh succulent, red strawberries. There's just no comparison in the flavor of berries ripened in the sun and those picked green hundreds of miles away, then gassed so the outside ripens. The insides often remain white, while fresh-picked red berries are red throughout.
The Hartleys welcome new and returning customers every year, including groups from Pocahontas, Preston and Fayette counties. A carload of visitors from Texas picked strawberries to take back home with them.
"There's a family of four that came from Fayetteville and bought more than $200 of berries," she said. "They had trays on their laps, on the dashboard - everywhere. They were going to make jams and jellies."
Fragile fresh berries soften and bruise easily, but even those are snatched up by customers who use them in jams, preserves and even wine. Judy Hartley sells them by the flat at a reduced rate.
Berry pickers should be in reasonably good health, wear comfortable, washable clothes and sturdy shoes and use sunscreen and perhaps bug spray, said Judy, who doesn't pick strawberries because of difficulties with her own back. She packages, weighs and sells them in a packing shed located beside the strawberry patch. Tired pickers rest on shady benches placed under the covered weigh-in area.
Some pickers prefer to crawl along the rows, rather than stoop. Judy recommends kneepads for the crawling crowd.
The lure of a ripe, freshly picked strawberry proves irresistible for most customers, who indulge while they're picking, though Judy hopes not at the same rate as her father-in-law, Landon Hartley, who eats two for every one he picks. She asks children with berry juice-stained faces if they sampled any berries.
"They usually say 'no,'" she said, with a smile. "My husband tells them, 'We don't weigh you when you come in, and we don't weigh you when you come out.'"
Judy's husband, Charles, and his brother, Jason Hartley, planted 16,000 strawberry plants six years ago on 2.5 gently sloping acres, a fraction of the farmland the Hartley family has farmed since the 1960s. The first year, they removed the blossoms to encourage plant growth. Ever since, the plants have produced abundantly.
They're ripening a bit later in the season this year because of the rainy, overcast weather last week. That means the season will end later, probably around June 20. It usually lasts a month.