For as long as there have been children living on the land that is now referred to the East End, children have picked strawberries smiling knowing how great they taste.
It’s safe to assume the Indian children that lived here before the settlements most likely picked strawberries; it is a ritual almost every child should experience, and almost everyone who has grown up out here has experienced.
Out on Route 27, are some of the fields of Brad and Lorraine Reeve. Brad is a scion of the famous Reeve family that has managed Bayview Farms for over 400 years out on the North Fork. He and Lorraine have been out on the South Fork for the last 23 years marketing the produce grown on their families 300 acres, (both on North and South Forks.) The Hayground Market dates back to 1953, along with North Sea Farms, (Tate King) to 1941, and Swank family farms (back to the 1800s).
Working one of the Reeve’s “Pick Your Owns Strawberry stands” is Lauren Andrews, now 22, who attended . As she handed out the collecting cartons to some excited young children she remembered going with her parents to do the same thing when she was very young.
“We would drive all over to our favorite locations on both the North and South Fork,” recalls Ms. Andrews. “The small ones are definitely sweeter, look for that nice dark red color.” What not to pick? “One’s that are too soft or have brown spots.”
Lorraine Reeve says the whole month of June is strawberry season, she enjoys seeing the children picking the strawberries and yes she has fond memories of doing it as a child as well as watching her sons Paul Reeve and Brad Reeve Jr. pick them as children, of course now they help run the family farm. Interesting note; between trucks and tractors the Reeve’s have over 25 vehicles. “Think of the gas,” said Lorraine without me even asking. She asked me to remind everyone that July will feature sweet corn, tomatoes, raspberries, green beans, and zucchinis. But now is high strawberry season.
I remember watching my sister Jody Mize and her two children Tom and Elizabeth assisting my own daughters Schuyler and Blair pick strawberries in these very Reeve fields 18 years ago. My mother would wash them, chill them and put them out for everyone to enjoy. Who can forget the look parents would give children who had strawberry stains on their white T-shirts.
To once again witness the pleasure of children picking strawberries, I pulled into one of those food stands with a huge strawberry out by the road. My children use to love to see those big inflatable strawberries as much as the Flanders Duck, which they thought actually got up and moved itself, since it seemed every year to be someplace else.
While out in the field a few years back on an assignment I watched the three McGee sisters, then all under 8 years old, work as a team. Aalyea would point out to Idalis where to have Karis pick a strawberry. It was classic sister teamwork and great family fun. Every now and then, one of the girls would just bite into a berry and eat it. Watching the smile come on their face slowly as the sugars and sweetness worked its way into their taste buds was priceless. Their mom was off in the distance watching it all go down perhaps thinking back to when she herself was the young child picking the strawberries.
The 75 acres the Reeves have on the South Fork are situated off Route 27 between Bridgehampton and Southampton. They open market stands at 7:30 a.m. and close right after the sun goes down. Lorraine, who still lives on the North Fork, in Mattituck, gets up at 5 every morning for the drive to work. During the season of course that’s seven days a week. In the winter, she said, “We plan seven days a week for the next season.” For more information, you can call 631-537-1676.
Back in the fields that June day the McGee sisters were tiring. On the other hand being so small is conducive to easily bending down to get the strawberries. As you get older the distance you have to bend over is greater. However, these young girls who had been singing and talking as they picked were tired. They had full cartons of personally picked strawberries and a few strawberries stains on their blouses. But when I went to take their pictures with pride they showed me the fruits of their labors. Picking strawberries has been a tradition not just in the Hamptons but all over the country.
It’s as American as strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream, and fresh chilled strawberries in your cold cereal with milk.