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It's strawberry-picking time on the Miller Farm

  • The Miller Farms' grocery.

    The Miller Farms' grocery.
    Courtesy of Allen Mansker

  • The rows of strawberries are separated by fresh straw for walking on.

    The rows of strawberries are separated by fresh straw for walking on.
    Courtesy of Allen Mansker

  • The Miller Farm will yield a bountiful crop of strawberries during May.

    The Miller Farm will yield a bountiful crop of strawberries during May.
    Courtesy of Allen Mansker

 
By Renee Trappe
rtrappe@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 5/7/2020 10:55 AM

The strawberries on the Miller family farm near Campbell Hill are ripe for picking and yes, you are welcome to come fill gallon pails of them. Or, you can buy them pre-picked, at the farm grocery.

John Miller said calls are coming in from people eager to know if customers will be allowed in, to pick strawberries in this, the farm's 12th season. The answer is yes and the time is now -- the first two weeks of May are the best picking time.

And with 26,000 plants spread over two acres, visitors can safely stay at least six feet away from each other, Miller says. Moreover, they have changed the picking lanes, to keep people even further apart.

"We're going to do some things a little different," he said. "We used to do the left half of the patch one day and the right side the next day.

"This year, we're doing every other row, so there will be a row in between."

Each row has a nice mat of straw on the ground so if it's been raining people aren't walking in mud.

Miller says if the farm gets too full, they may hold some people back to wait until others leave, but he thinks the two acres can absorb the traffic he's used to seeing.

The Millers' Amish farm used to be home to Bernie's Berries, which had its last crop in 2007. Miller, his wife Rosann, and their children moved from Indiana to the Amish community around Ava and Campbell Hill. Their first crop was in 2009.

This year, their 1,200 blueberry bushes are also expected to yield fruit -- they will be ready to pick from mid-June to mid-July. And four years ago, they put in a grocery store.

Miller said he grew up on a dairy farm, and he and Rosann had a farm in Indiana.

"I've been in agriculture my whole life," he said. "I grew up working with the soil."

Miller said the family came to southern Illinois where relations and friends already lived.

"Then this opportunity came up," he said. "The door opened up and we walked through."

Today the nine of them work the farm together. The children range in age from 12 to 24.

This year they have four different varieties, all known for vivid color, sweetness and flavor. Their biggest crop is Camarosa strawberries, followed by then Albion -- two popular varieties for putting up in jams and jellies. This year they are also testing Ruby June and Festival strawberries.

"They are all pretty much equally good at baking and eating," Miller said.

• The Miller Farm, at 918 Calvary Cemetery Road, Campbell Hill, is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.