Update: Most farms in this story have opened pick-your-own strawberry patches by Monday, June 8. The map below has more information.
A pandemic isn’t stopping most pick-your-own strawberry farms in Lancaster County this year. However, cool temperatures have delayed the crop by about two weeks.
By the time farms open for the season, around June 3 at the earliest, expect some changes. Wearing masks will be encouraged. Berries will be sold by the quart, not by the pound. And no eating berries in the fields. For an activity that can be as much fun as work, farmers are asking customers to focus on picking and not bring large groups.
Farmer Jim Erb of Brook Lawn Farm Market is fine with the delay in the strawberry season. Perhaps the extra time will allow coronavirus pandemic to improve, he says.
There appears to be little risk of COVID-19 transmission through food, says Jeffrey Stoltzfus, a farm food safety educator with Penn State Extension.
While pick-your-own farms can operate in Pennsylvania, it is up to each farm to decide whether it is feasible to offer the pick-your-own option, says Shannon Powers, press secretary with the Department of Agriculture. It’s also up to each farm to make changes, such as adding hand sanitizing stations.
In Lancaster County, Myers Pick Your Own Strawberries near Manheim decided last week to close to the public. Five other farms in the region expect pick-your-own fields to be open in the first or second week of June, depending on the weather. Strawberries are already available in the farm's markets as well.
(Read more about the 2020 strawberry crop and changes at farms below the map.)
Earlier last week, Phil and Gloria Myers had a plan for their strawberry farm. They planned for a wholesaler to pick many of the strawberries. The fruit would be sold at a roadside stand on Old Route 230 east of Mount Joy. They also were going to offer berry picking to the public by appointment. Thursday night, they decided to not offer public picking.
The Myers expected to hear from “an onslaught” of people eager to pick berries and wondered if customers would be happy with changes.
“Plus, we were getting a lot of pressure from our family,” says Phil Myers, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “They didn’t want us around people because of the virus.”
Other farms will open with some changes. Farm owners say they don’t know if safety guidelines will change in the next few weeks. In the meantime, they are considering these changes.
Most farms will switch from selling by the pound to quart boxes to avoid contact at weighing stations.
Containers will be provided. No containers from home can be used.
Masks are encouraged at most farms and some will require masks in the field and/or checkout areas.
Credit cards are now an option.
People will be asked to keep their distance while picking. Some farms may restrict how many people are in the fields at a time.
Shenk’s Berry Farm, near Lititz, will ask people to limit groups to only those picking, says John Shenk, who owns the farm with his wife, Linda and their son, Peter.
First Fruits Farm and Orchard in Stevens will ask people to mark the areas where they pick with flags. Owners Rachael and Jordan Martin already planned to add the flags to help customers know where berries have been picked over. This spring, the flags will also possibly alleviate concerns about COVID-19, Rachael Martin says.
Activities will be curtailed and some events will be canceled. Brecknock Orchard Farm Market usually has strawberry festivals over two weekends in June with crafts, wagon tours and strawberry treats. This year’s berry festival has been canceled.
“You can’t eat shortcake with your mask on,” says Andrea Martin, co-owner of the business.
At Weaver’s Orchard near Morgantown, school tours have been canceled and the playground is closed, says Ed Weaver, orchard president.
The strawberry crop
The strawberry crop is later and smaller than usual, farmers say.
That started late last year with wet weather. Low temperatures in April and May also caused some damage.
The fields are filled with strawberry blossoms and green berries. If the next few weeks have temperatures in the 70s with not too many hot or cold days, there’s potential for a nice crop, Shenk says.
Farmers say they expect a lot of people will be interested in picking strawberries this spring. To avoid crowds, berry-picking should last through the end of June, depending on the weather.