REGIONAL – The time is ripe for fresh berries, but if you’re in the mood for sweet samples of those unbeatable ruby-red bites of sunshine, you’d better act fast.

“We’ll still be picking most of this week,” said Mary Getting, a co-owner of Getting’s Garden of Sanborn, Iowa, along with her husband Don and son Andy. Schumacher’s Nursery and Berry Farm of Heron Lake ended its 2019 berry-picking days last Friday.

It’s been a short but sweet season for lovers of local strawberries, to be sure.

“This is our 35th anniversary year,” said Getting, who helps operate the family’s third-generation popular U-pick patch and market in rural Sanborn. “We started picking on June 24th —that’s extremely late because we usually get going by mid-June — but it’s been a good season overall and the berries have been really nice.”

At both Schumacher’s and Getting’s, customers are invited into the strawberry acreages to choose their own fruit, which is sold at a per-pound cost. (Pre-picked berries are available on a limited basis at Getting’s, although Getting advises customers to call ahead this week if they’re seeking that option.)

“We take people into the fields on the Strawberry Express,” said Getting. “That’s a really fun ride.”

The market at Getting’s Garden offers additional tantalizing treats, including strawberry muffins, turnovers, pies, preserves, shakes, sundaes and other products from area producers, such as wine from Grandma’s Fruit Juice Winery of Sheldon, Iowa.

“My mother-in-law, Sheril, still bakes the pies and turnovers in her certified kitchen,” said Getting, mentioning they employ about 50 temporary workers in their strawberry fields, market and as Strawberry Express drivers at the height of the strawberry season.

Pickers flock from miles around to regional strawberry patches during the brief but bountiful strawberry season; fortunately, the wet spring didn’t keep the berries from prolifically producing in 2019.

Patty LeBrun of Reading took advantage of the harvest and traveled to her preferred strawberry site, Schumacher’s, on July 1. While there, she plucked 23 pounds of berries from their tender stalks before heading back to her farmstead for a berry bonanza.

“When the girls were little, I enjoyed taking them to pick with me,” said LeBrun, whose three daughters are now young adults. This year, she made the strawberry trek on her own but took pleasure in observing other young parents choose fleshy red gems while their own little ones joined in the fun.

“The strawberries in the stores look beautiful, but there’s no way of knowing how long they spent in transport or how fresh they really are — and the local ones have great flavor,” LeBrun continued. “That’s why I like to go to Schumacher’s. I feel like they’re my neighbors, and I know the berries are fresh because I picked them myself.

“The key is to use them right away and refrigerate them quickly.”

Usually, LeBrun reserves some strawberries for freezing, but last week she went right to work with her 21-year-old daughter Morgan, a bachelor’s degree candidate in nursing, at converting the crop into ready-to-eat recipes. In the space of two days, the LeBruns made and feasted on strawberry bread, muffins and pie, while setting aside some of their berries in the form of strawberry jam.

“And Morgan used the dehydrator to make her own dried strawberry fruit snacks,” said LeBrun.

While strawberries are, by any measure, a health food — they are stoked with Vitamin C, manganese, folate, potassium and antioxidants, among other beneficial nutrients — consumers can still find delicious ways to add a few extra calories to their fruit.

“We also like them with angel food cake and whipped cream, and I ate a lot of them fresh splashed with half-and-half,” admitted LeBrun.

“It’s no wonder I’m not losing any weight,” she quipped.

Whether you prefer strawberries baked in pies or eaten straight from the stem, Getting’s Garden offers an additional enticement to make the roughly 35-mile trip from Worthington to their garden spot yet this week.

“For our 35th anniversary, we’re giving away a 50-inch TV and an iPad,” said Getting. “But you have to register for the drawing at our market, and we’ll be drawing the winning names on the last day we’re open this week.”

Getting’s Garden is located at 2861 Pierce Ave., Sanborn Iowa. They are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. this week, or call (712) 729-3301 for specific picking information. Getting’s Garden can also be found on Facebook, Instagram or at gettingsgarden.com Schumacher’s Nursery and Berry Farm is located at 37806 910th St., Heron Lake. Their 2019 picking season has ended, but look for information about their 2020 season at schumachersnursery.com or on Facebook.