The pick of the week: Ingram’s Strawberries
This morning when my 4-year-old daughter Haley and I arrived at Ingram’s Strawberry Farm tucked away on Riverdale drive in High Point it was like arriving at the Promised Land. The sun was out. There were old men with straw hats and old ladies with polyester pants diligently gathering bright red berries in row after leafy-green row. There were also other children around Haley’s age carrying white plastic buckets full of their ruby-red treasure.
Haley was excited. As we began making our way down one of the rows she made careful selections, holding up her largest finds like a jeweler examining a fine diamond. She also liked getting ahold of a soft strawberry or rotten one once in awhile, because when she found one of these she would throw it on the ground and stomp it several times until it lay in a pool of red sauce in the dirt. Then she would happily move on.
The 90,000 plants put out on six acres are a good crop this year, the Ingrams say. Even after heavy rains over a week ago that have caused some of the fruit to soften and get spotted, their crop is still plentiful. They are currently in their sixth week of production at the farm and are still gathering strawberries nearly the size of tennis balls. Dean Ingram, who runs the farm with his father Richard, holds three large ones in the palm of his hand.
‘“These are how they should be in the first week,’” he says, emphasizing that the berries usually grow less in the following weeks.
Dean and Rhonda Ingram are now teaching their three daughters the art of farming. The girls, ages 8, 10 and 12, are third-generation Ingrams.
‘“It takes even the girls. We couldn’t do it without them,’” says Rhonda. The girls help gather the strawberries and sell them at farmer’s markets on the weekends as well as help out with the farm’s other crops. During the summer months they grow squash, cucumbers, onions, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers and okra to sell at the markets.
The Ingram’s oldest daughter, Casie, also raises goats and cows. Her father raises beef cattle and gives her the calves that have been abandoned by their mothers every year to care for. Every year she shows some of her animals at the state fair.
Over next to the produce tables at the farm the calves and goats munch on a tasty treat of strawberry caps and berries too soft for sale. The girls keep Haley entertained with the animals, and their grandfather, Richard, gives Haley a strawberry to feed one of the goats.
Rhonda says many of their customers are families looking for a farm experience, unlike when Richard and his wife Katherine started the business 26 years ago. People don’t realize how easily strawberries keep, she says, and the numerous things that can be done with them. They don’t burn in the freezer like you might think, she says, and can be used in countless ways. This year the Ingrams have opened a new shop on the farm, a barn where they sell pies, cakes, cobblers, jams and preserves made from their strawberries to show folks just what they can do with them. She also says that many of the grocery store variety of strawberries that are shipped in just don’t have the flavor of those locally grown. The reason, she says, is because berries are shipped before they are fully ripe and redden on their way to market. But the inside will reveal a whitish color, indicating they are not ready. Vine-ripened strawberries, however, are pink all the way through and their natural sugars produce a flavor that is true to how a strawberry should taste.
And their secret for producing all those perfectly shaped, bright red, juicy berries? Two hives of honeybees per acre. The bees pollinate the plant’s blooms, which is necessary for a nicely shaped strawberry.
And that’s it. Nothing fancy. Just old-fashioned, time-proven agricultural methods and a lot of tender loving care from a close-knit family located in a little white farmhouse down an old dirt driveway.