Adventures of a City Slicker Berry Picker

Who knew blueberry picking could be such an adventure!

Earlier this summer, my wife and I attended an Ohio Blogging Association event called the “Sweet-Up” with Edible Cleveland at Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream flagship store in Ohio City. It was a great event where we got to hear Mike Mitchell talk about various aspects of his business while enjoying a premium view of the kitchen and enjoy some samples. Besides the samples we enjoyed way too much (is four trips to the special sample cart too many??), I was the lucky winner of the big door prize!

I won two tickets to an event called Edible Thursdays, produced by The Agrarian Collective in collaboration with Edible Cleveland. The specific event was called Pick. Eat. Repeat. A Blueberry Picking Party! WHO DOESN’T LOVE TO WIN SOMETHING!!!  This guy sure does! The description of the event was:

It’s easy to pick, eat, and repeat on-site at the Voytko Berry Farm in Auburn Township for a night of blueberries and bluegrass.  Escape your daily routine for a while and join us in the country for this two-hour “picking party”. ·      Enjoy fun, live music ·      Learn how to put up berries in your own pantry with Kelli Hanley Potts from The Agrarian Collective ·      Explore innovative ways to incorporate berries into your own cooking ·      All while sipping on some local beer!

Sounds like a blast! My wife and I went home sooooooo excited. It sounded like fun! Until a day or two later when this true city slicker started thinking about it and realized there would be bugs, bees, dirt, bugs, outside, sun, poor cell reception (isn’t anywhere outside a city bound to have poor reception?), bugs, humidity, heat, dirt… get the point. This concrete jungle loving guy suddenly realized he was headed to a farm. Was it a real farm? Is a berry farm a “real farm”? Wait, what the heck is a real farm compared to a not real farm. I HAVE NEVER BEEN ON A FARM! What do I know about it. Seriously, I have never been on an actual farm. We have stayed in bed & breakfasts that had some cows on the property, but that wasn’t a farm. Now, this is a berry farm, so it wasn’t the stereotypical (at least in my city guy eyes!) farm with all kinds of crops and animals. Yes, I have been sheltered from the farm lifestyle, I don’t know what is right and what is wrong. All I do know is that I would be on a farm. So, moving on, the reality about spending two hours outside, on a farm, in the hot sun (anything over 75 degrees is too hot for me), with bugs, and dirt, and bugs…..wait, we have already been through this. I knew we would have fun (I would fake it if need be) because we usually do, and we won these tickets and I wanted to show my gratitude. And my wife was so excited at the prospect of picking fresh blueberries.

As the date approached, we were both relieved that the weather looked ideal for a July evening in northern Ohio. On the day of the event, I did map out the place. It was what I perceived as in the middle of nowhere. To most people, 20 minutes from downtown would seem like a nice evening on the fringe of town. To this guy, I would be journeying to some vast unmapped corner of civilization. Would the roads be paved? Would there be electricity? OK, so maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but that is close to what was running through my head. After competing with one tractor (how many could there be, right??), we made it to the farm, Voytko Farms, specifically. Lo and behold, there was power, and cell reception (5 bars, oh my!), and friendly people and cars and all kinds of modern technology. At this point, my wife was bubbling over at the sight of this huge farm with some cool looking buildings and acres and acres (how big is an acre, is it like ten city blocks or ten avenues?) of plants, while I was a subdued yet anxious calm. We parked among another ten cars (phew, no horse-drawn carriages) and walked over to the other side of the big barn to find our event. And when we did, we were both surprised and impressed. There were a few tables, arranged in no specific pattern, with Kelli from The Agrarian Collective finishing up the last few things on the tables (I knew I liked her when the first thing she said was

“I just put the beers on ice, they should be ready in a few minutes.”

Ahhh, now this was getting good. Kelli had also prepared one of her vast spreads of amazing food that she has sourced locally. Spreads and veggies galore! We had first enjoyed the foods she prepares at the Sweet-Up the month before, so we knew it would be good. And one of the beers she had was Fat Head’s Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale, a local favorite and perfect for a summer blueberry picking party. The plan was to enjoy a beverage and some snacks while she discussed some of her plans for the evening, and then we would hit the fields to start picking! One highlight was the owner’s dog, Marlowe. He was so much fun as he just wandered among everyone and then back out into the fields to chase whatever creatures were out there. We bonded early on and he did spend quite a bit of time near me.

Marlowe the farm dog

So now that I have a full belly and a cold brew to wash it all down, it’s time!! Let’s head out to the field. At this point, I am relaxed and mellow, with the slightest of buzzes (yes, I am a lightweight). We start walking towards the center of the farm when I look out and truly take in how massive this place is Farm Sun Rows and rows of berries (I believe other kinds besides blueberries, but that was what we were there for) that seemed to go on forever. As we start to approach the first rows, that calm and contentment I mentioned not too long ago are rushed away in horror. BUGS!!! AND BEES!!! My wife is allergic so I am always vigilant to make sure I can defend her from these death creatures. So besides the fact that I already had a mosquito bite (it could have just been a piece of grass brushing against my leg, but at the time, I was sure I had Malaria from some exotic mosquito), I find a set of bee hives right in our path. Horror set over me as I was sure my streak of many years without a bee sting for either of us was going to come to an end and we would end up in the Emergency Room. Not just any ER, not the one close to home, but somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. I did panic, what if they didn’t have modern medicine. So what does this city kid do, he stands between the hives and his wife, sure he could keep the two from co-mingling. Because he is that big, he can keep all creatures from flying around him. Fortunately, the bees were never an issue, but I say that in hindsight. I was hyper-vigilant the rest of the evening. So after I did my best Indiana Jones move and successfully navigated us around the den of killer creatures, we set upon the fields and fields of berries. Suddenly, Kelli warns us about Poison Ivy.

WHAT!!!!! POISON IVY TOO!!! I don’t even know what it looks like, how the heck could I avoid it. Everything was green, just like the leaf of torture. OMG, what do I do!

Thankfully, since they did have cell coverage, I used google to save the night and figured out what Poison Ivy looked like. Now, remember when I said I was a city boy, I was not kidding. Yeah, I had friends that got Poison Ivy (should I still capitalize POISON IVY, or is that only for the character in a superhero movie?) growing up in the concrete jungle, but I never did because I was quite the goofy fat kid that was never too active. Go out in the grassy areas along the parks and highways, no way!! So I have no clue about POISON IVY except it will make you horribly itchy and could do worse. Fortunately, Kelli did explain not everyone is allergic to it, and some people can touch it and not even have an issue. Now that I am armed with bee repellent (my flailing arms…the best way to keep bees calm) and the visual guide to field plants, we made our way down the rows. It took me about 30 minutes to finally relax and get in the groove…..we did have 45 minutes to pick berries, so 15 would be more than enough. The heart palpitations subsided, the heavy breathing slowed down except when I had to brush away the legions of bugs I was sure were crawling up my legs (it was just grass and leaves I have since been told), and our buckets started to get heavy. I mostly did the scouting of the best bushes. I am tall, my wife is not, and the plants looked like many of them were at least 7 or 8 feet tall. I could see over the tops of some plants where it looked like they still had a lot of berries on the bottom (since a group of kids hadn’t just cleaned out the bottoms of the plants….ok, my wife isn’t that short, but close.) Somehow, I did manage to get almost as many berries as she did (it might have been her handing me her bucket twenty minutes in because it was too heavy since it was so full while mine was practically empty) and we wrapped up and headed back to the barn area with all the tables and equipment Kelli had brought with her.

HURRAY, I SURVIVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This was my inner proclamation as we now approached civilization.

The rest of the evening was spent eating more of the wonderful foods that Kelli had prepared, along with learning and sampling shrub.

Shrub Cooking

Yes, shrub, not the plant, but a concoction of sugar, berries, and vinegar that is a base to mix with soda water.

My wife is the cook of the house, so I sat back and played with Marlowe, had another beer, and ate way too much. It turned out to be a wonderful evening, with great hosts, and very nice attendees. The weather was perfect, the sun had started setting and it was just very peaceful on this beautiful stretch of nature. This city slicker survived, against all odds (that he placed in his own head!) and had a blast. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and somehow managed (like it was really difficult!) to make the best out of a really great event. Kudos to Kelli at The Agrarian Collective, Noelle & Lisa at Edible Cleveland, and the Voytko family…together, they made for a memorable event. Let’s just hope the videos of my antics don’t make it online anywhere. If you want to see my wife’s perspective, take a look at her blog post – Nickle Pickle goes blueberry picking. She definitely paints a different picture. * Thanks to Lisa from Edible Cleveland for having bug spray, I am sure she saved my life.