Metro-East News

Local growers boast best strawberry crop in years

Lilly Bertram, 4, watches as her mother, Becky Bertram, takes a bite of a strawberry at Eckerts Orchards on Wednesday. Would-be pickers are dropped off by shuttle, and picked up later, as the shuttle continues to loop from the parking lot of the main complex out to the fields.
Lilly Bertram, 4, watches as her mother, Becky Bertram, takes a bite of a strawberry at Eckerts Orchards on Wednesday. Would-be pickers are dropped off by shuttle, and picked up later, as the shuttle continues to loop from the parking lot of the main complex out to the fields. News-Democrat

Local strawberry growers are enjoying a good crop this year and are now selling the fruit of their labor.

“I think it is probably one of the best strawberry crops we’ve ever grown,” said Chris Eckert, president of Eckert’s Orchards in Belleville. “We are pretty excited about the strawberry crop this year.”

“I think it will be a really good year,” said Nancy Scharf, of Scharf Farm in Millstadt. “We have started picking to have them for over the counter, and they’re looking good.”

Scharf said customers will be invited to come and pick their owns strawberries at the Millstadt farm beginning Memorial Day weekend.

In Belleville, Eckert’s began its annual pick-your-own strawberry season on Wednesday.

The mix of warm sunshine and rain has nurtured a strong yield this season, unlike recent years when prolonged winter weather and drought conditions stifled recent strawberry harvests across the metro-east.

“The last few years have been rough,” Scharf said. “This year, it’s been very good.”

“We have had a really good weather for growing,” Eckert said. “And we planted a few more than we have in previous years, so we have more supply. Mother Nature has been cooperative, so it looks like a pretty good strawberry crop.”

At this time last year, Vince Demange Sr. had no ripe berries in at his St. Jacob farm. After last season, the family decided to relocate its strawberry patch near Belleville, where the family had been raising vegetables.

Vince Demange Jr. said the 4-acre patch his family planted off Illinois 15 behind The Flying J gas station and restaurant provides more water collection to help prevent late early springtime freezes. He also said that they covered their strawberry plants with plastic instead of straw to help protect them. He said the strawberry crop has reaped the benefits.

“They’re looking pretty good,” Demange said. “They have a nice size. All of the plants dry out faster than they used to. The strawberries the are looking good, and I don’t see any disease problems on them. So far, so good.”

The Demange family has been raising strawberries in the metro-east for 60 years.

This year is the 31st season of strawberries for Donahue’s Sunshine Farms in Collinsville. Gayla Donahue said this year’s crop is among the most bountiful they’ve ever had.

“This is a very plentiful strawberry crop,” Donahue said. “They are good in taste and there are lots of them.”

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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