#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture!
Ashley Porter has been farming all his life and loves the pride that it brings him each year. Not only does his fresh produce help feed his own family, but many others who come to visit from across the state. In 2001, he started opening up the farm to the public through the Farm Market on-site. Today, they see visitors all year long for u-pick events, ice cream gatherings and farm market visits.
Porter Farms and Nursery, located in Willow Springs, is most widely known for their strawberry crop every spring, but they also grow a variety of other items throughout the year, including blackberries, squash, tomatoes, melons, corn, pumpkins and mums. “We started opening up the farm for pick-your-own events in 2004, after Ashley officially purchased the farmland,” said Charity Lesure, Farm Manager at Porter Farms. “Ashley always loved strawberries and he knew there was a good market for them, so his aim was to target that niche with the u-pick operation.” Upon the conclusion of strawberry season, the farm continues to remain open to the public for blackberry picking, ice cream, summer produce at the farm stand and, in the fall, pumpkins and mums.
Springtime is the most popular at Porter Farms because almost everyone loves strawberries and picking them is a wonderful family activity. “Strawberry season is the signal that spring has arrived and it’s finally time to get out of the house,” Charity said. “I love to watch families and friends come out to the farm for strawberry season because it’s like a fresh awakening after the long, cold winter.” Strawberry picking costs $16 per bucket or $5 per quart and can be enjoyed by families or friend groups of all sizes. No reservation required, simply show up and start picking! “We supply everything that people need for strawberry picking, including the buckets,” Charity said. “There is no assistance needed or required in the fields, so people can simply take their time and enjoy the experience.”
Porter Farms offers strawberry picking in two locations, one off of Hwy 42 in Willow Springs and one in Raleigh, about 5 minutes from downtown. Hours of operation Monday through Friday are 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the Willow Spring location and 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Raleigh location. They also have weekend availability with Saturday hours being 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Willow Springs and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Raleigh. “A lot of these people come from very urban areas, like neighborhoods, so it’s nice to see them come and enjoy a day on the farm learning about what we do,” Charity said. Blackberry picking starts in June and will operate on the same hours and price scale as above for the Willow Spring location only.
In addition to their u-pick operation, the farm market on-site offers a variety of local products and produce, including honey, jams and vinaigrette dressings made out of strawberries from the farm. It is also right beside the ice cream shop where visitors can get a glass of ice-cold lemonade or enjoy one of 16 flavors of ice cream! “All of our ice cream is homemade using milk from a local dairy,” Charity said. “Our strawberry ice cream is a big hit, of course, because everything is local in it, but we also have several other flavors, like Cookies and Cream, for people to enjoy.” There is also a sandbox for kids to play in, wooden porch swings and picnic tables for guests to enjoy outside the ice cream shop.
Charity’s favorite part of having people come out to the farm is seeing the kids in the field eating strawberries. “There is nothing better than seeing a kid covered in strawberry juice,” she said. “The parents might have to do a little laundry on the backend but the moments spent on the farm and in the field are 100% worth it.”
The Porter Family puts a lot of sweat and hard work into their crops each year, from the strawberries to the summer produce and the pumpkins. They appreciate everyone who comes out to visit the farm because they love to share their agricultural life with any and all who will listen, in hopes that it will be impactful for the next generation. “It’s important for people to see where their food comes from. That it doesn’t just appear on the grocery store shelves,” Charity said. “Hard work is what it takes and we aim to show that on the farm. We want people, especially the younger generation, to know how to grow their own food because one day we may need them too.” Be sure to visit Porter Farms sometime this year and stock up on a variety of their fresh products and produce. We are proud of all that they are doing to further the N.C. Agriculture industry!