Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI integrated pest mgmt / GAP certified
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915 Mitchell's Lane
Middletown, RI 02842
Sweet Berry Farm is a full service specialty food market featuring farm fresh fruits and vegetables, local dairy products, artisan cheeses, and quality meats. Our kitchen produces baked goods, soups, sandwiches, pizzas and gourmet meals to eat in or take out.
Sweet Berry Farm now offers site rentals in their new addition! The venue has high-beam ceilings, a grand stone fireplace, and is always filled with natural light beaming through the windows and skylights.
The farm stand also has beautifully arranged bouquets and cut flowers for immediate purchase.
Next time you visit Sweet Berry Farm, make sure to check out the farm’s pick-your-own berries! From early June through October there are many different types of fruits to pick yourself! Whether it is strawberries, blueberries, peaches or pumpkins, there is always a delicious treat to pick! Don’t worry if you miss the PYO season for a particular fruit, the farm stand is likely to carry it pre-picked. Sweet Berry Farm always has a delightful treat and experience waiting for you! Visiting the farm is worth its own trip to Newport!
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Middletown, RI - As I turned onto Mitchell’s Lane, I noticed two metal crows perched atop Sweet Berry Farm’s colorful roadside sign. Crows are cleansers.They take away decay. They’re intelligent birds said to have magical properties too, including an ability to divine the future and dismantle the past. Best of all, they collect trinkets and treasures, shiny things
that catch the eye, which they use to feather their nests.
Jan and Michelle Eckhart, owners of Sweet Berry Farm, it could be said, are very much the same. They’ve dismantled a bit of Middletown’s recent past (the practice of turning farm land into housing developments) by partnering with the Aquidneck Land Trust to preserve 80 acres of land.
What would have been a housing development is now a farm market surrounded by acres of peach and apple orchards, and rows of jewelcolored strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. Flower gardens provide a seasonal supply of fresh-cut bouquets and in the fall you can pick apples or pumpkins and tag a Christmas tree.
It began when the Eckharts decided they wanted to work for themselves. In 1980 they bought a small (20 acre) farm and started selling strawberries and Christmas trees. In the summer months they sold their “pickings” at a few local farmers’ markets. Tired of hauling canopies, chairs, crates and baskets off site, they began selling from home. One white canopy went up near their goat shed. It was self-service with an honor system.
Before long the one canopy turned into two, then three, four, five and six. It was around this time that Jan learned about 80 acres nearby, slated for sale by an developer.Working with the Land Trust and the developer, they struck a deal, and Sweet Berry Farm grew to 100 acres.
Today 80 acres are under cultivation. In 2005 they constructed a post-and-beam building, complete with a walk-in cooler, restaurant kitchen and space for a café. Strawberries, still warm from the summer sun, go from the field to the kitchen to a lucky café patron in a matter of minutes.
Sweet Berry Farm is GAP (good agricultural practices) certified for its use of integrated pest management. For example, the farm grows buckwheat as a “green manure crop,” meaning the buckwheat is grown specifically to be plowed under as fertilizer. Clover, planted between crops and Christmas trees, prevents erosion. Honeybees are in on the act too. After pollinating the clover, buckwheat and wildflowers, they get busy making honey, which is then harvested and sold (raw, not pasteurized) in the market.
The new barn is filled to bursting with trinkets (kitchenware, funky umbrellas, brightly colored aprons); treasures (mosaics byMartin Cheek, garden sculpture by Ben O’Brien, honey jars by Brenda Wrigley-Scott) and all manner of things to feather one’s nest. It’s also where you see, sample and buy to take home the best of the farm’s bounty.
My aunt, Charlotte Bliss, and I can vouch for Chef Steve Corey’s house-made peach jam, Susanna’shouse-made Meyer lemon ice cream, their oatmeal chocolate
chip cookies, wildflower honey, reuben panini, fresh coffee and an armload of freshly cut flowers. (This was all part of one visit…no kidding).
The reuben panini (picked from an array of grill-your-ownselections) was almost too big to bite into. The buttery grilled rye bread gave way to tender, juicy pastrami… and just at the precipice of “too rich,” the tart, crunchy sauerkraut whacked it back in line. The Russian dressing squished perfectly out the sides, requiring some quick (yet ladylike) back of the hand slurping maneuvers. Aunt Charlotte, a true New England lady, is proper, not at all prone to silliness and a bit formal. On the ride home she dove into the lemon ice cream (“Oh dear, this may melt before we get home…”). She ate straight from the container with a plastic spoon. For a minute I thought she might tear open
the cardboard container in order to lick out the rest. It was worth every fat-laden super-premium, lemony, creamy, tangy drop. The play of lemon zest against the velvety rich cream was perfection.
My kids tucked into the honey as soon as they got home, slathering the dense, amber liquid over grilled Portuguese sweet bread as an after school snack. The following morning I made waffles (OK, I popped them into the toaster, but they were good toaster waffles) and spread them with a thick layer of peach preserves. It was like eating pie
filling on a waffle. Nuggets of sun-ripened peaches, fragrant in justsweet- enough jam, melted into the warm waffles.
On the day of our visit we watched kids play outside after picking berries, while their parents sipped coffee and looked on from the café porch. Inside, a group of ladies sat around a big table knitting and talking. The day’s main topics were the delicious food (much of which was shared) and what to name their knitting group (Knit and Nosh sounded good to me). Another couple enjoyed a quiet lunch at a table in the picnic area.
All the while, the market bustled with customers picking out artisan cheeses, the farm’s hand-made jellies, jams and sausage, fresh eggs, local seafood and every manner of seasonal produce, fresh from the fields.
The café serves breakfast and lunch. It’s self-service, complete with filling out your own “guest check” and grilling your own panini.While dinner is not served, you can pick it up and take it home (my sister Suzanne’s favorite type of home-made: “I made it come home with me,” she says.). The menu is based on seasonable availability and has a gourmet flair, without being pretentious.
Sweet Berry Farm is dedicated to supporting local food sources as well as local artists and craftspeople. You’ll find products from Little Rhody Foods, Arruda’s Dairy, Helger’s Turkey Farm and Bristol Bakery, to name just a few. They host local authors and musicians as well. On Tuesday evenings during the summer you can enjoy a free concert (the schedule is on their website). Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic if they want (or just buy it there). New this year, the farm is available for special events—imagine a wedding in a peach orchard!'
Like those crows, Jan and Michelle Eckhart are “divining the future” of their neighborhood through Sweet Berry Farm—and the rest of us can come and enjoy their local treasure.
Jackie Lantry is a freelance writer based in New England. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio and in Yankee Magazine and the Providence Journal.