Tomé farmers have raspberries and more

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They grow it, you pick it.

That’s the philosophy behind Mike and Vanda Conant’s roadside You-Pick-It Raspberry Farm in Tomé, where the public is invited to drop by the farm and pick their own berries at $6 a pound.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Mike Conant, owner of the You-Pick-It Raspberry Farm in Tomé, shows off the fruits of his labor. Conant says the farm will likely have berries up until winter.

Or, if a person is in a hurry or unable to pick themselves, the couple keeps fresh-picked berries in their refrigerator for $8 a pound.

The Conants moved to the area 10 years ago and first tried to raise a few cattle. But, alas, the livestock went eyrie, invading Vanda’s garden and had to be done away with. Then, says Mike, they spent some time praying for guidance on what product to try next and sought the advice of former extension agent Kyle Tator.

They wanted to grow a crop not common in the valley and that would be considered high value. Tator suggested raspberries and helped them test their soil and enrich it to properly sustain raspberries. The couple also visited the experimental farm in Los Lunas to see how they were growing their berries, and then, with some research under their hats, they put 750 raspberry plants in the ground in January 2011. By March, 250 had died, from, what Mike says, was probably a lack of experience on his part.

But, 500 survived to make berries, and this year they planted another 1,250, totaling 1,750 plants on a one acre plot of land. And this time, they’ve all survived, plus 150 blackberries and 30 fruit trees.

The Conants strive to grow their berries as organically as possible, refraining from spraying and opting to use their own compost rather than commercial fertilizer. On most brambles, there are clusters of berries in various stages of growth from very ripe to moderately ripe to not ripe at all, which accounts for the seemingly endless supply of berries.

At the rate his plants are going, Mike says he expects to have berries until it freezes. An impressive outcome, considering brambles don’t produce berries to full capacity for three to four years.

It’s a full-time job and then some, says Mike, of the planting, picking, weeding and watering that has to be done “night and day, six days a week.”

But he doesn’t do it all alone. He gets a lot of help from his free-range chickens, which can be seen patrolling the little farm, clucking away and feasting on anything that might harm the plants, such as crickets.

A beekeeper, Mike’s bees have also been working on the farm, getting their fill of the tiny, delicate white raspberry flowers, which no doubt will result in delicious honey sometime soon, which he also sells at the farm.

But despite all the work involved, Mike seems as happy to be out among the plants as the chickens and bees, going about his work with all the cheer in the world.

“We’ve had more pickers everyday, almost, than we’ve had berries,” he says.

He says for him, the greatest reward of all is providing an outing for families in which children can come and learn where their food comes from and help harvest it themselves.

“The kids get such a kick out of being around the chickens and turkey, but they love to pick the berries,” said Conant. “We’ve had several families with small children come back several times just as a family outing.”

Mike says the delighted looks they get on their faces when they try their first berry is wonderful, as well as the enjoyment they get out of watching the chickens and Annie, the farm’s little brown turkey. He says he has some customers that have come back week after week, and it’s not hard to see why.

The berries are beautiful to behold on the brambles, like clusters of rubies glistening in the sunlight on emeraldesque leaves, and they taste as good as they look.

And, according to www.livestrong.com, organic raspberries are high in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants and can possibly help prevent cancer, making them a great food to indulge in.

The Conant’s raspberry farm, located at 2847 N.M. 47, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, or by appointment, which can be made at 866-1967.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.