Read the excerpt below or check out the full article yourself at https://www.newmexico.org/nmmagazine/articles/post/playing-fields/
THE BUSINESS OF BERRIESThere’s a reason hordes of people are willing to pay to play farm laborer for the day: It’s pure bliss. Well, maybe not the part where you’re stooping over a scratchy bush in the hot sun. But the way I see it, all that work is a totally reasonable price to pay for selecting a perfectly ripe berry and popping it straight into your mouth. Try it. That burst, the essence of summer, brings a joy that just might make you close your eyes. And while they’re closed, imagine you’re six years old all over again, sneaking a treat for the very first time.
“There’s rarely anyone who comes without small children,” Heidi Eleftheriou says of her Corrales-based Heidi’s Raspberry Farm. Technically, you pay her for each pint of berries that you pick, but she understands there will be a certain amount of loss in the field. Most groups of pickers include at least one child who will likely eat more berries than he or she drops in the bucket. Eleftheriou writes off that slippage for one reason: Today’s red-smeared berry suckers are tomorrow’s nostalgic parents bringing their own kids to her fields.
Eleftheriou (pronounced “El-ef-thee-roh”) has been in the U-pick business since 2005, when she first opened her Corrales berry patch, just a mile from her house. For a few years, she tried to make a go of growing raspberries in Los Lunas, but managing the field from afar didn’t work. Last year she transplanted many of those canes to Corrales, expanding the field from three to four and a half acres of certified organic berries.
The bigger field is part of an overall growth pattern in her agribusiness model. Although the farm is quite spare—just a shade structure where you pay and a cooler from which they sell extra berries—she plans to encourage pickers to stay and picnic by expanding the shady areas and inviting food trucks to sell their offerings.
“I’m really aiming for this farm to be an agritourism gem,” Eleftheriou says. She’s well on her way. Last year, when she opened the field for picking at 9 a.m., 600 people were lined up. She had to close the gate at 10:30 because the canes looked like locusts had ravaged them.
Eleftheriou moved to Albuquerque from Ohio in the mid-1950s when her father, James S. Findley, took a position as chairman of UNM’s biology department. He bought a pink Mossman-Gladden house on what was then the edge of town, near San Pedro Drive and Candelaria Road. But he wanted a more remote environment, so the family soon moved across the river, to a secluded three-acre spot that Eleftheriou describes as “the boonies.” Her parents (and a few grad students) built a four-room adobe house and put in a vegetable garden. The kids got up at dawn to weed it.
As a young woman, Eleftheriou left New Mexico, traveled the world, and lived in Amsterdam, but she eventually found her way back, and met and married a charming Greek jeweler, Stavros Eleftheriou. They started a business together (Màti by Kabana boutiques in New Mexico and Kabana jewelry, sold in stores across the country), but after the second of their three kids was born, she left the stores to Stavros. “I wanted to stay married,” she says with a grin.
She was growing field flowers and selling them at the Corrales Growers’ Market when she got stuck on raspberries. “I love raspberries and I always loved raspberry jam, but I never found one that was made the right way,” she says. She wanted an organic jam made with real sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. So she set out to make her own. She started buying berries from a grower in Apache Creek and cooking jam in Jemez Springs High School’s community kitchen.
“It was like a quilting bee in a way, a bunch of women working together—it was wonderful,” she recalls. “There was always someone in front of you, so to make it go faster, you’d jump in and help them peel their garlic and whatever.”
In 2000, she decided to plant raspberries on a few acres of Corrales farmland she had snapped up in the late 1980s. As the business grew, she moved from one community kitchen to the next until 2015, when she bought a commercial building in Albuquerque and, for the first time, invested in her own equipment. She put in a gigantic deep freeze to hold berries straight from the field. She expanded her jam line to include versions blended with ginger, lavender, and red chile, which she sells at farmers’ markets in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Corrales. During raspberry season, you can find fresh berries at the markets, too.
*written by Gwyneth Doland **photos by Douglas Merriam