Local strawberry patches are proving to be super popular with parents and other guardians of children who must be home-schooled because of the coronavirus crisis.
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BAKER — Offering rows of sweetness amid rays of sunshine, local strawberry patches are proving to be super popular with parents and other guardians of children who must be home-schooled because of the coronavirus crisis.
That scenario held true on Friday for Niceville resident Dawn Lowe and her sister, Holt resident Debbie Livingston, each of whom has more than a half-dozen grandchildren.
“The playgrounds are closed. They’ve got (caution) tape around them,” Livingston said late Friday morning after she and her sister drove up to the Akers Strawberries “U Pick We Pick” farm at1074 Melton Road.
Because of the closure of playgrounds, parks and beaches in Okaloosa County, Lowe and Livingston said they were looking for places to bring their grandkids for fresh air and fun on homeschooling field trips.
Akers Strawberries, formerly known as Akers of Strawberries, was closed Friday, but would be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, said Donald Borek, a partner in the business.
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After hearing that, Lewis and Livingston went down the road to Brooks FARM Produce/Strawberry Patch, a U Pick We Pick farm at 5760 Griffith Mill Road, about a quarter-mile southwest of Akers Strawberries.
By around noon Friday, the Brooks business ran out of strawberries to pick, and customers were being encouraged to sign a waiting list.
The farm’s co-owner, Kathy Brooks, anticipates ripe berries will be ready to pick once more on Wednesday. The business is usually open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The Niceville family of Scott Blackmon, his wife, Kala, and their three children were able to pick about 4 lbs. of strawberries from the Brooks’ patch before they ran out.
“The kids had a great time,” said Scott Blackmon, who added that the family also enjoyed having snacks at the farm’s store, which sells items such as strawberry shortcake and yogurt. “It’s very affordable.”
The local strawberry season typically runs from early March until about late May.
The business originally known as Akers of Strawberries was started in the early 1990s by the late former state Sen. Greg Evers, who died in a vehicle accident in August 2017.
Borek, a lifelong farmer from Homestead, has partnered with Evers’ widow, Lori, to operate the almost 7.5-acre farm in Baker.
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“I came up here about 14 months ago to help put this place back together,” Borek said. “It’s been a lot of work here.”
After lots of rain and a hard freeze this past winter, “We’re doing pretty good,” he said of the strawberry crop.
Brooks FARM Produce/Strawberry Patch is now in its third season of growing berries on its 5-acre spread. Kathy Brooks owns the farm with her brother, Gerald Brooks, and they’re greatly assisted by longtime employee Lillian Hall.
Now more than ever, “There are so many people who want to get out and pick berries with their kids. They just want to get out and get some fresh air,” said Kathy Brooks, who added that strawberry shortcake is the business’s most popular to-go item.
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To stay updated on business hours and offerings, visit the Facebook pages of Akers Strawberries (phone number: 850-537-6000) and Brooks FARM Produce (phone number: 850-537-5373).
Not surprisingly, the annual strawberry festival originally set for April 18 in downtown Crestview likely will be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re probably not going to have it in April,” said Sandra Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit Main Street Crestview Association that spearheads the fest. “We’re looking to combine it to make a huge event sometime in May.”
The strawberry festival could be combined with several other postponed downtown celebrations: the Triple B BBQ Cook Off, car show, military appreciation day and public safety day.
The new potential festival date won’t be finalized until government officials give the official all-clear for large public gatherings, Wilson said.