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“I grew up on a dairy farm,” Susan Abers, co-owner of Abers Acres said. She met her husband when they were both in a 4-H Club and both brought a cow of the same name to the fair. “We thought we were going to be dairy farmers,” she said.
Well, they didn’t turn out to be dairy farmers. That was her father’s business, so the Abers family had to set themselves apart. Instead, they started to grow strawberries.
“We both had a lot of interest in landscaping,” she said. Susan and her husband John thought they could start a landscaping business, but being young and hoping to make money faster, they decided to plant something that would yield a crop quickly. “We put in an early field of strawberries because that was something we could plant and it would pay off quickly,” she explained.
They found they enjoyed growing fruit, so they decided to keep it up. They also found that they didn’t know that much about growing strawberries. “You learn a lot on your first field,” Susan laughed.
Faced with problems such as weeds and insects, Susan and John searched for any kind of solution they could find. “Someone suggested geese,” she began to explain. “So we bought like 10 geese to help weed the strawberry field…Mostly they ended up in the neighbor’s yard.” Susan laughed as she recalled the geese fiasco. “We made a lot of mistakes on our first field, but now we’ve got it down pretty well.”
Their farm was first opened in 1984 at their primary location on Route 394. All of their crops are grown around this area, where their original fruit stand is still located, as well as a year-round store in the front room of their home.
They began with very simple crops: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries. Now they sell a wide variety of products, including baked goods that are made locally, all with fruits grown on the Abers Acres farm. They are a certified organic farm; all of their products are grown organically, without any weed killers or pesticides.
“We don’t spray for weeds,” Susan explained. “All of our land is cultivated or hand-worked.” A good portion of their land is used to build up fertility, rather than to grow crops. “About half our land is a cover crop,” Susan explained. “It’s planted, but the seed is dug into the soil to build fertility…We have to prepare land years ahead of time.”
But the extra work to avoid chemicals is worth it. “We’ve discovered it’s very feasible to farm without weed killer…It all works together in a cycle,” Susan declared. “Weeds aren’t all that bad…Let nature work together.”
The Abers are able to employ local help during the harvest season to hand pick all the weeds. “We have five or six kids weeding,” Susan said. She is glad to be able to give young people the opportunity to build up a strong work ethic.
While they are busy weeding their fields of berries and vegetables, three fields of Evergreens are slowly growing into Christmas trees. “It takes about eight years for a spruce and 10 years for a fir tree to grow into a good-sized Christmas tree,” Susan said.
Being a farmer requires a great deal of patience. And a great deal of long days. On cold spring nights, John stays awake to keep an eye on the overhead irrigation system, which continuously sprays water over the crops to protect them from freezing when the temperatures get too low. They only have about 20 minutes to restart the system if the water stops spraying before the crop freezes, so John keeps watch, guarding the berries all night long.
Susan and John, along with their son Adam, work hard to manage the farm and continue the business, which has now spread to Warren, the local grocery stores and numerous farmers markets. “When we started, we were this little stand with pick-your-own strawberries,” Susan said. But Abers Acres is, after all, a growing business.
Their fruit stand opens as soon as the first strawberry crop is ready, usually at the beginning of June. With the colder year, Susan predicts the stand will open around June 10. Their sales room is open all year round and is right inside their house on Route 394 in Kennedy, NY. They still offer a pick-your-own option in their fields at 409 Grub Hill Road.
In Warren, their stand is located at the corner of US Route 62 and Jackson St. They also sell their products at the Farmers Market in downtown Jamestown, June through October. To reach the Abers by phone, call 716-267-2431.