Man, 92, in strawberry fields for 87th year

LINDEN – Elmer Weigle claims he’s not as quick as he used to be. However, the 92-year-old Linden man still picks strawberries with a speed that can be admired. Since the season began a couple of weeks ago, Weigle has spent every morning picking strawberries at Berried Treasures in Linden.

Weigle is a humble man who doesn’t like to brag.

“I will say that I don’t know anybody who can beat me,” he said, after much coaxing. “But Mother Nature takes a toll on you as you get older, it starts to slow you down.”

However, Weigle’s speed at picking berries is widely praised by those who have seen him in his element.

“Listen, maybe he’s about 40 percent of what he used to be; that doesn’t matter. Elmer is still at least 20 percent better than anybody else around,” said farm owner Tom Shirey.

Shirey explained a normal person will pick around one eight-box flat of berries in a morning. On Saturday, Weigle already had picked eight flats by early afternoon.

“Now he’s picked more than that, but I don’t know if anyone else has picked eight flats in one day this year,” Shirey said.

Weigle, who is one of 13 siblings, has been picking berries since he was 5 years old. His family owned a strawberry farm on Beauty Run Road, the biggest strawberry farm in Lycoming County at the time.

“In my teens, I was considered one of the better pickers around. I once picked a flat in under 10 minutes, but all conditions have to be perfect for that kind of speed,” Weigle said.

Twice this season, he has picked 80 pints of berries in a single morning. He hopes to gather around 1,000 pints before the season is finished.

Weigle explained that money doesn’t keep him coming out into the fields; he just enjoys strawberries. Weigle has been retired for 35 years, and says sitting around the house is boring. Instead, he would much rather spend his mornings deep in a strawberry patch.

When his wife was alive, she would use the berries to make all kinds of things. Weigle’s favorites included her strawberry freezer jam, as well as strawberry shortcake and strawberries on top of an ice cream sundae. While he still enjoys a good berry, most of what Weigle picks end up in the Shirey’s roadside stand.

Those who want to get their berries should do so before next weekend, according to Shirey and Weigle.

“It would be a shame not to come out and get some, the berries have been really good this year,” Shirey said.

Weigle agreed, and called this one of the best strawberry season in the last few years.

“There’s 5 acres of berries here. If we somehow picked them all right now, even after the plants have been gone over several times, we’d still likely get 30,000 boxes of berries,” Weigle estimated.

Morning is the best time for picking, according to Weigle. Early morning brings cooler temperatures, which makes the summer sun easier to tolerate, and berries which last longer.

“You never pick berries after dinner because they don’t keep well,” he said.

Weigle also explained his trick for determining which berries were best to eat straight off the vine.

“When the leaves of the stem are cupping the berry, the berries aren’t as sweet. When the leaves are up off the berry, the berry is sweeter,” Weigle said.