Originally created 04/30/01

Family reaps benefits of fruit



Bonita Myers is serving her community.

A former Mennonite missionary who worked in Puerto Rico, Mrs. Myers is extending her mission to the people in Burke County by providing food to nourish the body and spirit.

Between the months of April and May, Mrs. Myers, her husband, Tim, and their four children pick and sell fresh strawberries from their 3-acre field outside of Waynesboro on Georgia Highway 25.

It's an offering Mrs. Myers is more than willing to provide. The gentle smile she gives each customer is a reflection of the Mennonite culture, which advises its members to embrace their environment and to give 10 percent of their earnings to their ministry.

"It's good to be able to do something for the community that they enjoy," she said. "It provides them with something they need, and that's good for them."

The Myers started the business nine years ago as a family activity. It was a familiar interest for all of them, Mrs. Myers said.

"We used to go to places like this and picked them ourselves," she said. "We also like gardening and relating to the public."

The family learned the methods of growing strawberries while attending a meeting of the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association. Their education included knowing when to spray insecticides and how to fertilize and water their crops. The success of producing a beautiful crop, however, was learned through trial and error.

"One year, we tried to root our own plants, and the roots got a fungus because they weren't fertilized," Mrs. Myers said. "Normally we get bare root plants out of Canada.

"They do real well."

The family plants about 54,000 roots in October and harvests the strawberries in April and May. In the early part of spring, the Myers must protect their crop against frost.

"Once they start blooming, whenever it gets below 32 degrees, we run the sprinklers to cover them with ice," Mrs. Myers said. "We run them continuously as long as the temperature's below 32."

This system releases enough heat to hold the berries at the freezing point even if the temperature drops as low as 20 degrees, Mr. Myers said.

"They can maintain a temperature of 31 degrees, which the strawberry blooms can tolerate," he said. "We also do it after the blooming, which probably saves half the crop."

When the berries are ripe, nine workers pick the fields. The key to finding a good berry, Mrs. Myers said, is to find the red ones without the white tips. That information comes in handy Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, when customers are allowed to pick the sweet fruit.

The crew still loads approximately 500 buckets of strawberries everyday to service the public's demand.

Herbert Mobley from Waynesboro said he buys a batch whenever he's on his way home.

"My wife said she had one little bowl left, so we're picking up another," Mr. Mobley said. "They're real sweet and good this year."

Dennis Dixon, a salesman and delivery driver for J&B Tractor Co. in Waynesboro, bought three batches for his customers to show his appreciation for their business.

"They come to expect it - I do it every year," Mr. Dixon said. "I'm proud of (the strawberries). I eat them, too.

"During this season, I get a bucket a week. I have six kids, so they eat lots of them. We look forward to strawberry season."

Reach Albert Ross Jr. at (706) 823-3339.