Log in Newsletter

Ripe for the Picking | By Allison Williams


At my house, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are carefully circled on the calendar but not for the reasons you might expect. Cards are nice – berries are better. Mother’s Day marks the height of strawberry season: strawberry pie, strawberries scattered over a simple spinach salad, strawberries draped atop fluffy angel food cake, strawberry daiquiris, smoothies, even strawberry salsa. Father’s Day marks the start of another berry craze: blueberry muffins, blueberry cobbler and blueberry waffles. The McNeill family has been growing strawberries in Gray’s Creek for the past 20 years. “We have people who use the strawberry patch as a rendezvous point,” says Clifton McNeill Jr. “They see each other once a year at the patch.” The McNeills just never imagined that the city would come so close to the family farm. With a portion of the farm dating back to an original land grant from England, McNeills have been living off the land for generations. Now, they are surrounded by new homes and a state-of-the-art school. But that’s one of the beauties of Fayetteville; you don’t have to venture far from the city limits to find fresh produce this summer. “There’s nothing that beats local grown,” McNeill says. “We take it off the plant and within two hours, you’ve got it home. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.” But McNeill has a word to the wise for all you Yankees. By Memorial Day, strawberry season in southeastern North Carolina is all but over. Soon, the McNeills will begin planting new rows of neat, plastic-lined beds of new strawberry plants for another year’s picking. Move over strawberries, it’s time for blueberries. For 20 years, the Bullard family has harvested mounds of fresh berries from plants so large they look more like trees than bushes. Mae Bullard kept the tradition going at Stedman Blueberry Farm even after her husband died. The community wouldn’t have it any other way. Bullard was eating at a local restaurant not long ago when someone called out, “There’s my blueberry lady!” “It’s the people,” Bullard says. “They’ve brought their children and grandchildren.” And Bullard has passed the tradition on to her daughter and grandchildren. “We want people to get back to knowing where their food comes from,” she says. There’s no better way to do that than to pick your own berries. The best part? Free samples as you pluck.