Morning fog still hovers over the fertile fields alongside the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, as Aaron David (AD) and Bryson Johnson make their way to the strawberry patch for another day of productivity. The brothers, ages 13 and 11, respectively, are on the job by 7 a.m., picking and selling what many have acclaimed to be the sweetest strawberries they’ve ever tasted, grown on their family’s 300-acre farm.
What was originally envisioned as a summer exercise to teach responsibility and work ethic by the boys’ parents, Dr. Aaron and Lauren Hendrickson Johnson, has proven to be highly successful. In the process, the endeavor has literally blossomed, producing a highly sought-after sweet product. “We didn’t want them sitting around all summer playing video games and such; we wanted to teach them how to be productive,” said Lauren Monday afternoon while overlooking the strawberry field’s long rows.
AD and Bryson’s little sister, Ellisyn, age 5, was sitting in the side-by-side ATV with her mother, back from nearby Dex Minimart with a bag of cold treats for all, when I arrived to get the story. A moment later the little girl was out and about in her cowboy boots. “It’s a family affair,” said Lauren with a smile. “And Dad (Dave Hendrickson) has recently retired, and having grown up on a farm, he’s raring to go early in the morning.”
From where we were standing we could look down on the vast field below, as white containers were being filled by those picking berries. Noticing her dad as being one filling a container, I rhetorically asked, “Who’s the field boss?” Lauren answered immediately, “Oh, Dad’s always telling everybody what to do.”
The word has gotten out about the Johnson’s juicy summertime treat, as on most days you’ll be too late to pick up a gallon if you tarry too long, rooted out by those who have come from as far as Virginia. In fact the strawberry season is nearly over. “This’ll probably be the last week for strawberries,” said Lauren. “But, we’re going to have a good selection of garden vegetables coming on real soon.”
With an air of expectation, the children’s mother elaborated on the wide variety soon to be available, which includes sweet corn, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, watermelon, and about everything else one is apt to find in area gardens. You’ll recall the Johnson farm had garden peas earlier in the spring before the strawberries came on.
“We’ve already planted blackberry plants, which should start producing next year,” said Lauren. “And we’ve also planted fruit trees for the future.” Having already sampled a few of the strawberries, which had successfully tempted me from their containers on the table before me, I asked about their availability next year. “Oh yes, we’re going to keep on raising strawberries,” the mother of three confidently stated, looking over her shoulder at AD, Bryson and Ellisyn, who were not so exuberant. The older brothers’ day of farm work was winding down, as their grandmother, Gayle Johnson, had just arrived to cart them off for other summertime adventures on the adjoining Johnson farm, land long worked by their grandfather, Arch, Jr., as well as a long line of Johnsons before him.
“Their workday is from 7-11,” said Lauren. “We want to teach them how to be accountable with their time, but we also want them to balance their free time, and to appreciate it.” (You may recall AD and Bryson are in the process of making a name for themselves athletically, productive members of the Lumberjack Football Program.) “We want them to appreciate opportunities to help themselves, as well as helping others. We want them to learn that success starts by putting Jesus Christ first in their lives,” stated Lauren. “You can’t have one foot in and one foot out in that relationship.”
The Johnson children will no doubt forever remember this summer, and its strawberry fields, as a time to work, a time to play, a time to relax, and a time to enjoy the simple pleasure of eating a strawberry...or ten.