Strawberry fields weather rain storms

Sandy Roberts admits it's been a tough season so far for her strawberries. Heavy rain has pounded the fragile fruit and those berries that can't take the abuse have turned to mush.

But the average visitor to the pick-your-own Cottle Strawberry Farm in Stockbridge wouldn't understand the scope of the rain damage because despite the conditions, big red berries remain amidst the bushy green plants, looking as tasty as ever.

Roberts, the manager of the field, estimates that berries should be good for picking through about the first week in June.

"Last year, this field picked 'til Father's Day, June 15," she said.

Cottle Farms, which is based in North Carolina, leases seven strawberry patches throughout the Southeast. Roberts said they've all suffered somewhat due to the rain systems that move east through Alabama into Georgia and then north into South Carolina and North Carolina, where the fields are located.

"We usually open the (Stockbridge) field the first week in April but this year was April 18. It's the latest we've ever opened," Roberts said.

Cottle Farms has leased the Stockbridge farm for 17 years and people in the area anticipate the first day the field is open for picking.

"We pulled up in the 18-wheeler and people pulled in right after us," Roberts said.

Roberts explained Cottle Farms has been in the strawberry business for 45 years and is one of the first farms to offer pick-your-own. It all started back in 1977 when one strawberry field that they thought was not fully grown and ready for picking started to give fruit. So as not to waste the fruit, the Cottles took a piece of plywood and wrote

"u-pick" on it and hung it at the field.

"The people came out in herds," Roberts said. "We've been u-pickin' ever since."

The reason the Cottles lease various fields through the Southeast for their berries is because the original owner, Ned Cottle, had family, specifically grandchildren, who lived south of his native North Carolina and he wanted them to have a place close-by to pick, explained Roberts, a member of the Cottle family who travels down to work the Stockbridge field annually.

For Roberts, the six- to 10-week leave away from the main farm in Faison, N.C., is a welcome respite.

"My favorite thing is the children. I love it when the kids come out," Roberts said. "And (I like) being outside because after this I'm stuck in the office 'til next spring."

The Cottle Strawberry Farm, located at 4830 E. Fairview Road in Rockdale County, is open 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to

5:30 p.m. Sundays. A gallon of u-pick strawberries is $10 and we-picks are $12. A quart of u-picks is $3 and $4 for we-picks. The farm also offers strawberry and blueberry preserves, strawberry syrup, strawberry dressing and strawberry salsa.

For more information on Cottle Farms, visit www.cottlefarms.com or call 770-761-7822.

Contact Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.