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THE TOP PICK

Jessop Farms builds memories with berries and other attractions

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THE TOP PICK

Lincoln Coenenberg leads his mom Kelley, right, and grandmother Connie through the blueberry fields.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED May 30, 2013 2:20 a.m.

RIPON – Loren Jessop sat in the parking lot of a Home Depot, mere moments away from his next shopping spree.

The owner of Jessop Farms and Yosemite Nursery spends a lot time – and money – here.

Consider it an investment in goodwill and good times.

This is Jessop’s laboratory, where his dreams, ideas and every whim take shape. The materials are hauled back to his 20-acre property along Murphy Road and used to build his next attraction. To build his next memory maker.

With its you-pick blueberry and strawberry patches, cherry trees and lavender,  Jessop Farms has long been considered a summertime jewel in the Central Valley.

And with conviction in his voice, Jessop says it’s only going to get better.

“I remember when I was young and going to u-pick farms,” he said. “Those are some of the memories I hang onto as a kid.

“I’m 50 now and our farm isn’t just a field. A lot of u-pick farms are fields with a Tuff Shed. I decided to make it more than u-pick farm, but a destination where families could come and build memories that last forever.”

Thousands of people, most of them families, arrive at Jessop Farms every summer in their dusty vehicles to pick berries, lick fast-melting ice cream and play in the sun.

Their eyes – like the very berries they search for – are ripe with a youthful exuberance and hope. Hope that they’ll find a berry the perfect shade of purple or crimson red. Hope that they’ll find an experience unlike any contained within limits of town or their day-to-day lives.

“Better than Maine,” a Palo Alto man bellowed as he rolled a blueberry branch between his fingers on Monday afternoon, knocking the pint-sized, pesticide- and fungicide-free fruit into a bucket.

His family scattered into the field around him, searching out rows and bushes undisturbed by the morning crowd.

Picking season began two weeks ago and continues through the first of July, weather permitting.

The time table and lifestyle have been seared into Jessop’s DNA. He was raised on a blueberry farm in Michigan, and by the age of 12 had sworn off his family’s fate.

“Then I turned 45 and started planting them,” he said with a chuckle.

It wasn’t the only thing he and his wife planted into the soft, sandy soil in rural Ripon.

Laughingly, he says the farm has been compared to Disneyland by some of its customers because of its various attractions. “I had to roll my eyes at that one. We’ve become Walt Disney’s $100 million headache,” he quipped.

But to be fair, there’s more to Jessop Farms than buckets and berries.

Customers could spend an entire morning or afternoon on the property, running between games and activities and sweet treats. The best part: The whole experience would cost less than a night at the movies.

From the Jessops’ laboratory have come these fresh fruit inspired treasures:

They’ve added 150 cherry trees bringing their crop inventory to blueberries, strawberries, almonds, cherries and lavender. They’ve also recently purchased beehives with the hope that in three or four years, the farm will offer customers its own line of bottled honey.

There are two putting greens, a bounce house, koi pond, sailboat rubber sandbox and playground – all free to the public.

A dollar can buy you an ice cream, lemonade and ice tea.

They’ve added a tetherball pole and basketball court to the list of attractions, and have begun work on a new gazebo and picnic area. The gazebo will be ready next summer.

In time, the farm will stage a Saturday Farmers Market for local growers, aptly named Farmers Market at the Farm. And at summer’s end, Jessop and his family will present a college-bound student with a scholarship, courtesy of money collected from various pancake breakfasts.

The first pancake breakfast was held on Monday, adding $600 to the scholarship fund.

“We wanted to make it a friendly place to hang out,” Jessop said. “A place where you could not only pick blueberries and have fun, but when the kids lose their attention, instead of going home you can spend another half-hour or so building the experience.”

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