BAYFIELD, Wis. – Shortly after the last ice age native people on Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula began making a living by fishing and by gathering the abundant fruit that grows there. More recently commercial fishing and larger-scale agriculture developed in the area. There are some families still fishing commercially. And there are family farms that produce a large variety of fresh food sold through community-sponsored agriculture, farm markets, farm stores and stands.

Some farms encourage adventurous consumers to pick their own produce. One of those farms is Rocky Acres, located on Bayfield County Road J near Bayfield. It’s part of the Bayfield Fruit Loop – a group of farms, orchards and wineries that cooperate with the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce to market fresh produce as well as products like fruit preserves and wine.

Rocky Acres is eye-catching. From one direction visitors see a well-preserved Lake Superior fish tug before fields of berry bushes. From another direction they’re lured by an assortment of hand-lettered signs advertising ready-picked berries. Other signs advertise an experience – “Pick your own berries.”

A worker will offer cardboard flats for berries, directing visitors to a field where berries are ripe. In season there are strawberries, blueberries and raspberries at Rocky Acres. After visitors park their vehicles at the edge of a field, someone – probably the owner, Brenda Erickson, with her dog, Rosy – will greet them. They will be shown to rows where they can pick berries so fresh they exude sunlight as juice stains on hands and mouth. Some people transform that pickable sunlight into jam or jelly. Others freeze, can or dry the precious food.

“My father bought this farm in 1955,” Erickson said. “The last 15 years I took summers off my job and helped through harvest. I took the farm over myself in 2009; I’ve been running it ever since. My dad was a part-time commercial fisherman. My brother is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman.”

That explains the fishing boat at Rocky Acres.

“We put a new roof on it,” she said. “It has a steel hull; it will last forever. People don’t always remember the name of the farm but they remember the boat because they can’t figure out why there is a fishing tug in the middle of a farm. It’s our landmark.”

Consumers who buy food from a grocery store can forget where the food really comes from. At a roadside stand or a farm store a person has a better chance of connecting the food with where it’s grown. But the transformative experience of picking that food and meeting the farmer who grew it means never forgetting where that food is from.

“People are amazed,” Erickson said. “They don’t know if a blueberry comes from a tree or a bush. It’s an educational experience, especially for kids. It’s great for kids to get out here, to meet the people who work in the fields. It’s a whole different world from what they’re used to. I think it’s really a good thing for them to come up here and pick their own food.”

Farms like Rocky Acres in the Bayfield Fruit Loop offer fresh wholesome food. But they also offer an experience that provides a connection with food, farms, farmers and the land. These days it seems the phrases “know where your food comes from” and “know your farmer” are heard more and more often. One way to do that is to visit a farm like Rocky Acres.

Visit rockyacresfarm.weebly.com and www.pickyourown.org/WI.htm and bayfield.org/what-to-do/orchards-berry-farms for more information.

Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.