In partnership with: Connecticut Department of Agriculture
When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses and kept families cooped up under stay-at-home orders in 2020, people were desperate to get out of the house and do something fun. Fortunately, Connecticut farmers came to the rescue with pick-your-own produce experiences, which naturally allow for safe social distancing in wide-open spaces.
“Our berry-picking season went better than I expected. Because so many other businesses were shut down – and this is an outdoor activity – we had a large amount of interest,” says Jamie Jones, who grows strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins and Christmas trees at Jones Family Farms in Shelton. “We worked to make the pick-your-own experience safe with social distancing, and we had very good results during our berry seasons.”
With 15 acres of strawberries and 10 acres of blueberries, it’s easy for guests to spread out while harvesting berries at Jones Family Farms.
“We received a lot of positive?reviews from people who were relieved they could feel comfortable doing this activity with their families. Plus, they were harvesting healthy food to take home,” Jones says.
Jones also operates a vineyard and winery, which they had to alter a bit because of COVID-19.
“We have an indoor tasting bar, but we can’t have tastings indoors because of the human interaction as people talk about the wines,” Jones says. “So, we opened up with table service outdoors accompanied by light fare. We offer flights of wine where a hostess brings samples of wine to you with a tasting sheet.”
One change the Jones family made to accommodate visitors during the pandemic will likely remain after the pandemic is over.
“We implemented a reservation system so people had to sign up online and reserve a time slot to come pick berries. We found it allowed us to serve our guests in a more relaxed manner because we knew how many were coming, we had enough staff to help them and the farm was never overcrowded,” Jones says. “It was better for our employees and better for our guests, so I think we’ll continue that system in a post-pandemic world.”
Scantic Valley Farm
Scantic Valley Farm in Somers offers pick-your-own strawberries and blueberries, as well as a popular Flower Bar, where guests can pick and assemble their own fresh-cut flowers. Scantic Valley implemented new guidelines for picking during the COVID-19 pandemic, including requiring face masks, maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet from other parties, assigning guests rows to pick in, and limiting families or groups to four people or fewer. They also offered curbside pickup of pre-picked berries.
Raspberry Knoll Farm
At Raspberry Knoll Farm in North Windham, guests did not need to register before coming, but they were required to wear face masks while picking raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. Guests who were interested in cutting their own fresh flowers and herbs were accommodated as well.
“We disinfected the cutting shears, baskets and wagons after people used them to keep everyone safe,” says Mary Concklin, who owns Raspberry Knoll Farm with her husband, Pete. “We created separate entrances and exits so guests weren’t coming and going in the same place. We widened the area in the farm stand so people have more space to walk, and we installed sneeze shields at our check-in and our farm stand checkout.”
Their efforts were worthwhile – Raspberry Knoll had a “berry” successful year in 2020.
“The vast majority of our guests understood our requirements and appreciated our efforts to keep everyone safe,” Concklin says. “It was a good year for us.”