By VERONICA GORLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- Follow a narrow gravel road winding through green fields and bales of hay. At its end awaits five acres of plants loaded with small, juicy, red fruit.
It's strawberry season again at White House Fruit Farms.
Situated at the end of the road is the farm's pick-your-own strawberry patch.
"A lot of people like to pick their own strawberries," said Dave Hull, one of the owners of White House. "They enjoy the experience.
"It allows people to connect to how food is produced. As time goes by, fewer people have a connection to the farm. They're used to going to the grocery store, and [the food] is always there," he added.
The reasons for picking strawberries are as varied as the people gathering them.
Typical picker: "A large percentage of people that come out to pick are retired people or young people with children so the children can see how the strawberries are picked," said White House employee Lola Ann Kurtz.
The strawberry patch attracts regulars as well as first-time pickers.
"We have some people who show up nearly every morning, but the bulk of our customers come two or three times during the month of strawberry season," Hull said.
For many, harvesting strawberries is an annual event.
"I come here every year," said Ed Ryan, 80, of Niles. "This is the third or fourth time I've been down here this year."
Ryan, who splits his time between his house in Fort Myers, Fla., and his residence in the Valley, said he planned on sharing with his daughters some of the strawberries he took home.
"I enjoy picking strawberries, and I love to eat them too," he said with a hearty grin.
Longtime tradition: Tina Beck of Canfield emphasized the duration of her strawberry-harvesting endeavors.
"My oldest is 15, and she's never had store-bought jam," she said. "I've been picking for a long time."
She brought her children Laura, 7, and Andrea, 4, to help her pick strawberries.
"We eat them and make strawberry jam and strawberry pie," Laura said.
Her mother added, "That's what she has for her birthday -- strawberry pie instead of cake."
As Kurtz and fellow employee Mike Schuler swapped job-related anecdotes, Kurtz acknowledged her fondness for the fruit.
"I usually take a couple quarts home a day just to eat," she said.
Although this is only her second year with White House, Kurtz, a recently retired nurse for Salem Hospital, is no stranger to strawberry patches.
"I've done it all my life, ever since I was a kid," she said of picking berries.
Teri Rolls, 45, of Austintown, came to the patch with her neighbor Louise Stovall, 51. It was Rolls' first time picking strawberries in Ohio.
"I'm probably eating just as many as I'm picking," she mused aloud.
The women planned on eating some of the berries and freezing the rest. Were they planning on sharing their spoils?
"Our kids are grown -- these are for us," the women agreed.
First-time picker: Jeanna Cunningham, 18, of Warren, believes berries that are farm-fresh are sweeter than store-bought berries. She plans to eat some of her strawberries with ice cream or strawberry shortcakes.
The first-time picker quickly learned that strawberry harvesting is no easy job.
"My back is going to be hurting when I go home," Cunningham observed.
The taste of the fruit and the variety of its uses are not the only reasons for picking strawberries. Some just enjoy spending time outdoors.
"It seems to be more fun to get them yourself," said Marvin Brown, 63, of Warren. "You get to be outdoors, and it gives you something to do."
He paused from picking his eight quarts of strawberries to comment, "With these, I'll probably make one pie, and I'll probably eat some and save the rest for my daughter-in-law from Chicago," he said.
He added that his grandchildren will also partake in the berries. "They like to eat them, but they don't like to pick them."
Brown, a regular at the strawberry patch, said he starts watching the newspaper at the end of May to see when strawberry pick-your-own season begins.
Another reason people pick strawberries is because it saves them money, said Hull. White House's market store sells a quart of strawberries for $2.75 -- that's $1.50 more expensive than a pick-your-own quart.
Other pick-your-owns: The farm also offers pick-your-own peppers and tomatoes beginning in mid-August, as well as a yearlong farm market.
White House is a 77-year-old family owned and operated business owned at present by David Hull, his son Dave and daughter Debbie Pifer.
According to the younger Hull, his grandfather, Jerome Hull, bought the farm in the 1920s. He started off with apples, peaches and turkeys.
"We've evolved over the years," Hull said. "We still have the apples and peaches, but we've dropped the turkeys and added more fruits and vegetables."
Hull is unsure why Jerome, who passed away in 1974, named the farm White House, though he offered that his grandfather's patriotism might have been the reason. Hull's father told him that growing up, a small flag hung over the dinner table, and the family recited the Pledge of Allegiance after grace. He also mentioned that three of Jerome's nine children were named Woodrow, Herbert and Franklin.
Duration of season: Hull said that strawberry season runs for about a month, and this year the patch should be open until Wednesday. He also said he hopes the plants will yield 5,000 to 7,000 quarts per acre.
"Weather factors have made this year one of the better years," he said.