by David Cecelski
Yvonne Cecelski at Jean’s Berry Patch
My mother and I went looking for strawberry fields today. We found them at Jean’s Berry Patch, a pick-your-own farm in Chatham County. The fields were crowded with customers picking the ripe red fruit. We picked a bucketful in 20 minutes. My mother enjoyed being on a farm again. At times, she’d pause from her picking, stand up in the field and just breathe in the country air. Once, she looked out over the acres of red berries, the blue sky and, on the other side of the road, fields of light green spring wheat waving in the breeze. “It’s like a picture,” she said.
After our berries were weighed and paid for, we crossed 751 and walked around Apex Nurseries, a venerable old plant nursery also owned by the Copeland family, the proprietors of Jean’s Berry Patch. Ronald Copeland, the company’s president, invited my mother and me to walk around the grounds. His grandfather, Dell S. Copeland, founded the nursery in 1918. At that time, the family lived in the Ebenezer community, 10 miles south, next to what is now Jordan Lake.
The Copelands moved the nursery to NC 751 in 1961. Today the business has 40 full-time employees and 70 acres of ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials. Jean, Ronald’s wife, started Jean’s Berry Patch, in 1980. They cultivate 8 acres of strawberries and Ronald Copeland, a perfectionist to the core, can talk all day about the right combination of fertilizer, soil, water and weather that it takes to make a sweet strawberry. And they are sweet this year, that’s for sure.
At Apex Nurseries, my mother and I walked across rolling hills of weeping willows, crepe myrtles, red cedars, Japanese maples, azaleas, irises, verbenas, phloxes, and hundreds of other beautiful plants. They nearly took our breath away. On our way home, we stopped by the company’s office to thank Ronald Copeland for letting us wander the grounds and we bought a bog sage and some brilliant red dianthus to take to a friend.
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Jean’s Berry Patch is located just off NC 751 on Lewter Shop Road. The farm’s web site is www.jeansberrypatch.com and the phone number is (919) 362-5800 . Just look for the signs and the antique steam engine. There are probably a couple hundred pick-your-own strawberry farms in North Carolina now. To find one near you, check out the N.C. Ag Department’s “North Carolina Farm Fresh” web site at www.ncfarmfresh.com/farms.asp.
photos by David Cecelski