Rural Missouri - May 2018 - 26
Wayne Simpson and his
daughter, Debbie, planted
their first strawberries in
1980 and have been growing them ever since. The
cabin behind them holds
family heirlooms dating to
Strawberries from Simpson's Family Farm are a
U-pick tradition for decades of customers
by Savanna Kaiser | email@example.com
bright, red strawberry is painted on a sign where gravel meets pavement, calling for visitors to turn down the quiet country road. Follow the wildflowers along the fence for one half mile and you'll soon
arrive at the homestead, where sprawling fields of ready-to-pick produce, a log cabin and greenhouses greet visitors to Simpson's Family Farm.
Once the morning sun has dried away the dew, it's time to grab a basket and
pick some delicious berries.
The Simpson family has been preparing for this all year. In fact, they've been
hard at work on their U-Pick berry farm near Mountain Grove since 1971. "We
started with grapes," Wayne Simpson says as he points to some of the original
plants still producing today. "Then in 1980, we put out our first strawberries."
Blackberries came next.
"My wife and I moved here in 1957. Back then, I was building cabinets
and dairying," the Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative member says. However, the
potential of their 120-acre property soon turned their focus to growing produce. The U-Pick operation was born.
It was the first strawberry farm in Missouri to do plasticulture - growing
with plastic materials - the Simpsons say. They'd grown everything in matted
rows in previous years with perennial plants forming new runners year after
year. Plasticulture introduced a way to grow a hearty annual crop with plasticcovered rows instead.
"They said it couldn't be done here," Wayne recalls. "Supposedly the growing
conditions weren't right and we were too far north, but I wanted to try it." After
RURAL MISSOURI | MAY 2018
much trial and error, Wayne visited a group of strawberry growers in Arkansas
and learned some tricks of the trade.
"In the late '90s, we decided to trial it, putting one field in plasticulture and
leaving one in matted row. We wanted to see if the customers would pick it,"
says Wayne's daughter, Debbie. Any misgivings were short lived.
"I'd offer customers the choice to pick either field. Once they tasted the
Chandler berries grown with plasticulture, they wouldn't go back to the matted
rows. Pretty soon I had to shut that entire field down," Wayne says.
The new berries were bigger and better. There was no need to weed between
the plants and their customers were happier. "It was then and there we decided
to go strictly plasticulture," says Debbie.
The family starts around 100,000 plants every September. "We buy our tips,
which are cut from plant runners, from Nova Scotia and grow them into plugs,
similar to tomato plugs," Wayne explains. "We have a machine that makes the
beds, prepares the ground, lays the irrigation lines, fumigates the soil and puts
the plastic down all in one pass."
With the help of a four-person waterwheel planter in October, they drive
the rows and drop the plants in their designated places. "We can plant about
25,000 plants a day," says Wayne.
They work through the fall and winter, tending to the young plants. "The
amount of berries we harvest in spring was set in October. If we did everything
right at the start, we should be able to expect a reliable crop later," says Wayne.
"I usually know by Thanksgiving what I can expect in May."
Of course, those estimates don't account for unpredictable weather. The
Simpsons' berries were doing great until hail, strong winds and low tempera-