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Posted: April 23, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Rich pickings at Mitcham Farms

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Mitcham Farms has been a family business for more than 100 years. Kevin Mitcham and his parents, Tommy and Emy, look at the farm as their livelihood, considering its history as a centennial farm.

"This is what we do," said Kevin. "We don't have a job in town and just do this on the side. I just enjoy doing this. I like being outside, doing something, growing something."

"I remember when my granddaddy used to have cattle and cotton on this farm," added Tommy. "We've changed over the years-starting on the vegetables and berries about three years ago."

Starting at 8 a.m., the workers pick through the strawberry patch, collecting dark red berries ready for consumer purchase. The picking lasts through the first half of the day before they move on to another tract of the farm to tend to the other set of crops, which include peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn and several types of peas like pink eyes, purple hulls and big boy peas.

"There are so many little factors that play a key role, like getting them planted to the right depth," said Kevin. "When you have 25,000-30,000 plants, you got to make sure the workers are doing things the right way."

Customers interested in picking their own berries or to purchase berries already picked, are strongly recommended to call before stopping by the farm. The fickle nature of the weather usually determines the growth of the berries.

"People have the misconception that rain is good for strawberries, but they need dry weather and sunshine - the rain only rots them," explained Kevin. "Corn is the exact opposite-it needs plenty of rain."

Kevin recently attended a three-day Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points course in Athens to study food safety. The course also included good agricultural practices, a collection of safety principles to implement for on-farm production and post-production processes.

"The practices we learned and will use should be more appealing to customers in the buy local movement," said Kevin. "These practices will also allow us to be able to sell to bigger food chains."

In the fall, the farm hosts a variety of activities for students, including berry-picking, a corn maze and tour by hayride. Each student and chaperone will be charged $5 each for a day's full of activities; students will also receive a coloring book and mini-pumpkin and teachers will receive a resource bag of farm goodies and teaching aids.

The farm has previously participated in community events such as Relay for Life and the creation of the Miracle League. Mitcham Farm spent this weekend at Party for the Planet, an Earth Day event at the Atlanta Zoo, promoting the farm and its products.

The farm plans to continue picking strawberries until the beginning of June, as the season typically last six to seven weeks.

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