Lisa Bellstein picks red raspberries at the Blueberry Patch. / Dave Polcyn/News Journal
MANSFIELD — If Steve Beilstein had gotten his way in 1981, the 30-acre farm known as The Blueberry Patch would be producing bushels of apples today, not berries.
“The original name was supposed to be Apple Barrel Farm,” Beilstein laughed.
But as any grower knows, the key to agriculture is listening to the land — that’s why you don’t grow crops on a steep slope or oranges in Ohio.
So when Beilstein decided to start a small farm in Mansfield, he didn’t just listen, he asked. He sent soil samples from the farm to a lab at The Ohio State University before planting a single crop. He wanted to know what could grow on the land and what couldn’t.
All signs pointed to blueberries.
More than 30 years later, The Blueberry Patch on Hanley Road boasts 27 acres of blueberries, two acres of raspberries and half an acre of blackberries.
“On a good Saturday, we’ll see 1,000 people a day,” Beilstein said.
One of the biggest draws to the farm is the “U-pick” option. Visitors are furnished with their own containers and carrying case and get to hand-select each berry. Blueberries are sold by the pound, and raspberries are sold by the pint.
Half of the shop’s business comes from these self-pickers, said Beilstein’s wife, Lisa. Lisa joined the operation in 1987, and helped grow the patch from 1,200 blueberry bushes to 27,000.
“People love to come and pick. It quickly becomes a family tradition,” Lisa said. “It’s something outdoors where people can learn how their food grows.”
Four generations of the Monica family have been picking berries at the farm.
Jeff Monica, 49, said his grandmother used to take him and his brother to the farm to pick blueberries when they moved to Mansfield from Willoughby. It became a tradition that she later shared with Jeff’s three children.
After she died, Monica said, it was important to the family to keep the tradition alive, so he and his wife now take their two grandchildren every year.
“It’s just family fun,” Monica said. “It’s bonding time with the kids and a time to teach them how to do stuff in nature.”
Although blueberry and blackberry seasons are over for the year, raspberry season will continue throughout September, or at least until the first frost, Lisa said. Raspberries sell for $3 a pint.
For people looking to make a quick stop, the Blueberry Patch offers pre-picked berries, as well as frozen. Steve said the business cranks out raspberries, blackberries and 27 varieties of blueberries “recorded by the tons.”
“We can’t keep up with demand,” Lisa said.
Berries also go to Yoder’s Fine Foods for jams and jellies and to Troyer’s Home Pantry to be used in pies. The Beilsteins also partner with Kenyon College, providing the cafeteria with local berries, and two venues at The Ohio State University, where berries are used in smoothies and other fruit drinks.
The small-farm operation offers more than just berries now.
A year-round gift shop and café caters to visitors who want to come spend the day on the farm.
“We’re so diverse,” Lisa said. “People can come and spend several hours here.”