The city of Troy knows a good strawberry. After all, this charming town north of Dayton, Ohio, is known as the “Strawberry Capital of Ohio.” Their annual Troy Strawberry Festival has been going strong since 1977, and that’s thanks in part to the local Fulton Farms, where they grow a substantial amount of strawberries every year. This month, my husband and I explored both, and it was a sweet and enlightening experience!
Strawberry Picking at Fulton Farms
a warm foggy morning, fresh country air, expansive strawberry fields bursting with sun-ripened fruit…
Fulton Farms is a family-owned 2000+ acre establishment in Troy, Ohio. For decades the farm has offered the u-pick method in selling their delicious strawberries, and the activity has become a local tradition spanning multiple generations. We decided to check it out on a warm and foggy Thursday morning in the first week of June.
Pulling up to the U-pick strawberry field was a beautiful sight. The low and stuffy clouds hung to the neatly planted rows, and though it was early in the day, the green was already speckled with families getting an early start. Children were hunting the red berries like chocolate-filled eggs on Easter; their tiny mouths dribbled red with juice.
We stood in a line and paid the one dollar for a bucket while others who pulled in after us wore armfuls of their own aged receptacles, the Fulton Farms logo faded with use. It was clear we were the rookies of the strawberry field with our newly purchased bucket, but we balanced our lack of experience with spirited enthusiasm.
“The world has changed so much in a year, yet this stretch of earth remains uninterrupted,” I thought. “It’s reliable.”
Setting off for the far end of the field with unblemished vessel in hand, we were assigned our own patch to pick. My husband dug right in. Unlike me, he’d gone strawberry picking many times as a child and quickly found familiar ground. As for me, I took in the surrounding scene. Folks picking ripe fruit from the earth – such a simple act, yet there was something so satisfyingly natural and human about it. “The world has changed so much in a year, yet this stretch of earth remains uninterrupted,” I thought. “It’s reliable.”
I willed myself to abandon the people-watching exercise and got down to strawberry-picking business. Purveying my designated patch, I marveled at the beauty. The innocently white and delicate flowers from which future fruit would emerge speckled throughout the patch. From light green baby berries to pink teens. Rosy young adults to the deeply red and matured. There they were, in all stages of their strawberry lives.
Eventually, I got serious and started picking strawberries. Anything bright red got plucked, the ripe fruit easy to spot as they were poking out like sirens. And in the bucket they went, little nubbins to jumbo size. Some shaped perfectly like a heart while others grew wild in form like clouds in the sky. When I found the most beautiful, exotic strawberry, I’d exclaim like a child, “Look here at this one!” My husband is used to these exaggerated reactions, but bless those poor souls in the patches around me.
I’m accustomed to the strawberries from the market. And no offense to those perfectly homogenous packs. They’ve just been picked through and sorted, is all. But when you choose your own strawberries, they need not conform. The more unusual, the better, and you can genuinely taste the difference in the freshly picked fruit.
About a half-hour in, I looked around at our little patch and realized we’d barely made a dent, yet our bucket was heavy with strawberries fresh from the earth. We made our way up front to pay, and as we waited our turn, my mind raced with what I would do with all this juicy fruit.
Standing in line, I sparked up a conversation with a woman about my grandmother’s age. She shared that she’s been coming out to pick on these fields for many years. The tradition started with her mother-in-law, now gone. I listened as she recalled these memories with fondness and imagined her younger self picking in the field. I asked if she had any tips for keeping the berries fresh. She explained not to wash them until you were ready to use them…they’ll keep better in the fridge…lay them flat on a sheet to freeze. She instructed with a familiar knowledge as if all these tips should be obvious, reminding me of my grandma.
After paying, we packed up the car and steered out of the drive towards home, strawberry bounty in tow. I left feeling grateful not only for the fruit but also for the sweet conversation and connections I’d been missing over the past year. While picking strawberries, I experienced appreciation, understanding, deep happiness, and a oneness with the earth. It felt akin to travel, in a way. Perhaps in years past, these moments would’ve been looked over or rushed through, but not now.
P.S. When I got home, I followed the advice of my new friend. The strawberries ran straight to the fridge, sans wash. And they kept for three days until I washed them up and used them in a dessert I read about in the New York Times- Strawberry Spoon Cake. And let me tell you, this dish is beautiful, approachable, and incredibly scrumptious. Trust me, you’ll want to try it yourself!