Payne Farm is opening its doors to all those strawberry lovers housed in Gordon County.
The farm has rows and rows of ripe, sun-kissed strawberries ready for picking.
The most important benefit of getting strawberries from a local farmer is knowing where produce has been grown.
“It’s intensive labor, but it’s not hard,” said Carla Payne of Payne Farms. “I want people to know they can buy local, have better quality produce, and support their local farmers all while getting the whole farm experience.”
Payne Farms has planted 50,000 strawberry crops on its property, and is welcoming the community out to pick their own berries, or buy some that have already been picked.
“We have three different varieties of strawberries here,” said Payne. “We have camarosas, the big guys, then we have Chandlers that are a medium to large berry, and then we have Sweet Charlie’s that are fairly small, but really sweet.”
To have a perfect strawberry, the first step is properly maintaining the ground.
“We plant on plastic, so we have to work the ground really good,” explained Payne. “Then we come in and fertilize and lay the beds of plastic.”
Afterwards, the staff at Payne Farms plants the crops 14 inches apart in double rows.
“Strawberries are difficult; you can’t go too deep,” explained Payne. “If you have one wrong pull, well, it’s over from there.”
After the crops are planted and start to grow, it is a daily process to maintain the berries.
“We water whenever they need it; there is no set time,” said Payne. “We fertilize once a week; we fertilize under the plastic, so that none of it gets on the berries. There is also weeding, too.”
Payne said that they usually don’t have to use pesticides, but when they do it is minimal.
The biggest threat to the strawberries isn’t the creatures that crawl the night, but impromptu weather that can strike at any time.
“We can’t protect the strawberries; we just have to pray,” said Payne. “We worry about hail because it will ruin us quickly.”
They work hard to ensure that the best crops are available to the community, and that hard work is noticed from the very first bite.
“We plant each year and rotate in the crops,” said Payne. “I walk the fields every morning to see where the most ripe strawberries are, or to see if we are all picked out.”
If the farm is all picked out, that means that there aren’t any ripe strawberries, so they will have to close until the best strawberries for picking are available.
Payne admits that the best part of what she does is getting to stroll the fields early in the morning, and nosh on a few vine-ripened, ruby-red hued berries.
“The best time to eat a strawberry is in the morning because it is still cool from the night,” she said. “The field is calm; it’s wonderful.”
She even said that she wouldn’t “notice” if others followed suit.
“If someone wants to eat a berry in the field, that’s okay,” smiled Payne. “Some people police it; we don’t.”
When potential pickers come to wander in the field, they are provided with baskets (or they are welcome to bring their own).
“After they have picked berries until their heart is content, we weigh them and that is how they pay,” explained Payne.“
Payne Farm also offers hayrides, tours for children, a strawberry festival on Saturday, May 12, when mother’s get in free, and they sell their very own jam, too.
“We have tours available for groups of 10 or more; it’s $5 a kid to pick a pint,” she explained. “They pick berries, have a hayride, and we provide refreshments, usually strawberry lemonade.”
She said that this time of year is one of her favorites.
“It’s so cute to see a kid come in and they have red all over their hands,” said Payne. “It’s all about getting back to agriculture and to let people know where their food comes from; that’s why we like to have a ‘you-pick’ farm.”
Payne Farm is open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. The cost is $2.75 per pound for pre-picked strawberries or $1.75 per pound if you pick your own.
“The family atmosphere that we bring, people can tell the difference,” she said. “There’s nothing better than a berry fresh from the vine; you have no idea what you’re missing until you taste it.”