Raspberry season comes to Champaign County with some changes

Mike and Cathy Pullins, owners of the Champaign Berry Farm, pick some red raspberries Friday at the farm. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Mike and Cathy Pullins, owners of the Champaign Berry Farm, pick some red raspberries Friday at the farm. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

A later-than-usual season of raspberry picking is underway at the Champaign Berry Farm east of Urbana.

Red raspberries are already available with plans to have black raspberries this week.

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They would have liked to have opened sooner, but a cool spring slowed the development of the berries.

“It’s really temperature and moisture,” said Mike Pullins, who runs the family farm with his wife, Cathy, and their children. “And this year we had plenty of moisture, but after a warm up there in early April, the last of April, early half of May was cool, and it just slowed down the growth and production. Raspberries, the optimum temperature is 70 degrees, and we had a lot of days in late April and May that were only in the 50s.”

Now that the berries are ready, potential pickers who make the trip to the farm, now located at 5676 State Route 29, will find things a little different than they might have seen in the previous 25 years the family has sold raspberries.

“We’re taking temperatures of the staff,” said Cathy Pullins. “If they’ve been around anyone who’s ill or has a fever, they’re not to report to work. We have increased hand-washing stations, and we’re asking customers to wash their hands when they first get here. We are sanitizing frequently our carriers and our surfaces.”

Those are just some of the changes made in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has caused more than 48,000 Ohioans to become infected with COVID-19 since March.

Work surfaces, picking trays, scales, golf cart seats and port-a-johns are all being sanitized regularly, and the farm is using a credit card reader that does not require a worker to touch a customer’s card.

Staff who work directly with customers wear masks, as do those who work close together in the fields, and customers picking their own berries are asked to use only containers supplied by the farm rather than having the option of using their own.

Customers with a fever or who have been with someone who is ill are asked to stay home, and everyone who picks berries is to wash their hands before entering and when exiting the field. Face coverings are recommended for customers, and maintaining social distancing is important, Cathy Pullins said, while fraternizing between customers is discouraged.

She also said customers will be placed in rows six feet apart from each other to aid in social distancing.

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Typically golf cart rides to the field are available to anyone, but this year those are being reserved for only the elderly and handicapped. Additionally, a curtain has been installed between the driver and customers.

The Champaign Berry Farm is open Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sunday, the farm is open from 2-6 p.m, but any day they could close early if they run out of ripe berries.

Especially early in the season, customers are encouraged to check the farm’s web page (champaignberryfarm.com) or call 937-232-7525 to see how long they will be available on a given day. They also provide updates via the farm’s Facebook page.

Patrons who pick their own berries will pay $4.50 per pound while pre-picked berries are available for $11 per pound.

The summer season is expected to last 3-4 weeks, and a second season starts in September and lasts until the first frost.

And for those who might be interested in growing their own, Mike Pullins is all for it.

“Typically marketing is the hard part compared to production — that’s not the case with berries,” Pullins said. “I can’t grow enough to satisfy demand, so I want to promote other growers.”