by Alissa Danckaert Skovira

Ahhhh, summer has finally arrived in Ohio — a season filled with sensory delights. Plump, sun-warmed berries are surely one of the best parts. To pick your own juicy berries in a fragrant field and pop them directly into your mouth is sheer bliss. 

If you want to skip the work and still enjoy the freshest treats, a visit to Countryside Farmers’ Market in Howe Meadow is in order. You’ll find growers like Zach and Denise Miller of Dillon Fruit Farm in Lisbon, Ohio. 

The farm offers a few options for customers who may pick their own fruit, purchase the fruit at an on-site market, or visit the Countryside Market. 

On market day, that tempting fruit you see is the product of an entre year’s hard work. 

“Zach works long hours year-round making sure the bushes are well-cared for to maintain maximum productivity, and that fields are kept up to give our customers the best possible farm experience during their visit,” Denise says of her husband who grew up working on the farm. 

When owners Jim and Karen Dillon decided to retire, Zach and Denise eagerly stepped up to continue the tradition of fruit farming. 

What does year-round work entail? From November through April, there is pruning to do. Spring brings weeds — particularly soggy springs like this past one. Weeding, mulching and planting new shrubs are chores that stretch over this season. 

Denise admits the challenges, particularly the capricious Ohio weather, can be tough, but she and Zach have committed themselves to making the farm prosper. They are raising their four children there as well, with a fifth due in November. 

Make no mistake, these berries are quite different from the ones you find in most stores. Denise points out that berries from Dillon Fruit Farm aren’t “waxed or coated in preservatives for long-distance shipping.” 

Avoiding berries that have been shipped during a season when there are local growers producing glorious fruit makes sense environmentally. The buy-local movement can be tough to join given Ohio’s northern climate, but summer is a time when it’s easy to stop by the various farmers markets and enjoy local fare. The selection can be amazing.

Most people don’t realize how many varieties of berries there are to grow. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are 103 species and subspecies of strawberry plants alone. Keeping an open mind at the farmers market is all part of the fun. The majority of us have tasted strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, but how many have sampled gooseberries or elderberries? 

“They taste like a mixture of a somewhat sour grape and blueberry,” Denise says of gooseberries, which she was sold out of by the time I reached her stand on market day. Perhaps because they are something of a novelty in Ohio, they went fast that sunny morning. Berries seemed to be a popular selection. Pies, jams, jellies and cobblers all taste best with freshly picked fruit. 

I may have missed out on the gooseberries, but I did score some impressive blueberries — round and firm with some of them as big as dimes. They didn’t last long at my house. 

Like summer itself, the berries are here for a short time only. Stop by your local market and discover the culinary treasures that await before the season ends. 

Join The Devil Strip and Countryside for a Berry Bash at Countryside Public Market, in the Northside Marketplace, on Sunday, July 14. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/349676055735967/.

Alissa Danckaert-Skovira teaches writing at Kent State University. She has a background in English and history, and she enjoys anything and everything to do with research and writing. Her interests include historic preservation, politics, gardening, and all things Akron.

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