After a bummer of a strawberry crop last year, we were so ready and excited for strawberries on our Winston-Salem campus this year. This year’s Berry Patch was certainly a labor of love, and our Facilities Team, with the help of our Advancement team, worked so to make it happen! Our Facilities folks (shout out to Mr. Leon, Mr. Barry, and Mr. Stephen!), Kim King, our longtime Director of Community Outreach (Kim’s been with Crossnore/The Children’s Home for 37 years!), and Amanda Fitzgerald, our Director of Development, worked from last September through June to make this happen for our community.
Guidance along the way.
We are so thankful to ICON Builders, our presenting sponsor, and to Michael Beal, our long time berry mentor, for all the help and support along the way. Michael Beal is the former President of the NC Strawberry Association, and has been walking alongside of us through our berry endeavors for more than eight years. Kim laughs when she recalls his phone calls. “Hello,” she’d answer. All she’d hear on the other end was, “You better have those berries covered.” Where would we be without Mr. Beal’s vast knowledge and sage advice? And yes, there were a few late nights of covering our precious “strawbabies.” Those tarps are heavy and that mud was thick! Even this week, Mr. Beal is creating a Strawberry 101 class for Kim and the Facilities team, so we can continue to grow, improve, and have an even better crop next year!
Obviously there were things about this year that were less than ideal. (I mean it IS 2020, what did we expect?) We had a rough ride at times, but under the circumstances, we consider this year’s season a success. Our team planted three kinds of berries this year – Ruby Junes, Chandlers, and Sweet Charlies – 22,000 berries – and because of this, had the longest season we’ve ever had. We picked our first berries on April 13th and still had a few remaining berries all the way to the second week of June!
Trying to meet the demand.
Demand was so high this year, there were days we had to turn folks away, which of course, we hated. Kim likes to say “We’re raising children, not berries.” We raise these strawberries as an aside, a gift to the community. We know we can’t meet the demand, but we are happy and proud to offer an amazing product to our neighbors and friends, while they last. We desperately missed having a You-Pick option this year. We missed the smiles, the laughter, the families, and the red-mouthed faces of kiddos who had picked their own and denied ever eating one in the field. (Their story and they’re sticking to it.) We missed long, lingering conversations with you, our community.
We opened on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 10am, but people began lining up in their cars by 8am most mornings. “What are we going to do with these people?!” we thought, knowing we wouldn’t open until 10am. But we were pleasantly surprised that most were content. They came in their cars with their newspapers and their coffees to sit under the shade of the trees and wait for their drive-up berries. Many had been voluntold by their spouses to get in line early. “Don’t you come home without berries!” Two hours of peaceful waiting wasn’t as bad as one might expect – we’ve all learned the beauty of slowing down just a bit during this season. Even though our conversations were quick, we loved the hellos, the smiles, and the gratitude of the community. And that gratitude certainly went both ways.
Stepping up in unexpected moments.
We had a couple of close call moments, the first being a night-before notification that our team of pickers wasn’t going to be able to make it for our grand opening morning. “What do you need?” our Residential Director, Jennifer Gonzalez, asked Kim. Kim responded, “I need the kids. I need pickers.” And our sweet kiddos did not disappoint. All of our teen residents came out in force that first morning (and several other mornings throughout the season) to pick berries. When they realized the cars were backed up all the way to Reynolds High School, they picked even harder. They were proud (hot and sweaty and tired, but proud) of having a product that the community wanted. We paid them an hourly wage and also provided them with takeout breakfast and lunch, which they enjoyed. They did it all for the McDonald’s! Our staff picked up the slack too – many members from several different departments jumped in to help with the picking. Cottage parents, our Residential team, members of our Advancement team, our Director of Foster Care, even our Triad Executive Director (in her white pants!) joined forces to make sure we had berries for our customers. This year’s berry experience was certainly a whole-Crossnore-family endeavor.
So much good.
We had so many other positive moments too! One of our favorite things was getting to drop off berries to the residents of Arbor Acres, our long time neighbors, friends, and donors. Staff and residents alike were crazy about the berries. It was such a bright spot in their time of quarantine to be able to share that joy. We were so thankful for our partnership with ICON Builders and their gracious financial support. As we learned well this year, farming has its risks – pests, uncooperative weather and, this year, a global pandemic. But with ICON Builder’s support, we were able to have a successful season. We enjoyed getting to do drop-off unexpected berry deliveries to Crossnore’s special friends. And we loved when the workers doing construction on our campus would purchase gallons of berries while on shift. We treasured the moment when one of our trustees bought two gallons of berries, a $20 purchase, and handed us a check for $1,000. (We bent our “exact change only” rule for that.)
Our Director of Development, Amanda Fitzgerald, said, “My first strawberry season at Crossnore was a little different than anticipated. With very little time to pivot, our facilities and advancement teams did a terrific job setting up for a socially-distant strawberry experience. Each day our drive-up strawberry service got better and more efficient. My favorite part was seeing repeat customers lining up for fresh, delicious berries day after day!”
We have high hopes for next year. Each year we learn and grow. We are working for our plants to produce even more strawberries next year. We ordered the berries this week. Facilities will spend this month and next month prepping the soil. The berries will go in the ground in September. And then, in February, the real work will start. Hopefully by next May, it will be safe to offer You-Pick options again, and we will be able to make those connections and have those conversations with you, our dear friends. But if not, you can rest assured our drive-up service will be going full force. Either way, we can’t wait to see your faces again. And we’re excited to offer you the area’s finest strawberries, planted, tended, and picked with love. Just for you.