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Six-year-old Jonathan Huffman had never been in a blueberry field before he visited Lisbon on Monday, when he got a chance to see just how much work it takes to provide fixins for a pie.

Jonathan and andhis 7-year-old brother, Victor, both who grew up in Costa Rica, wereat Larriland Farm with their adoptive mother, Kathy Huffman of Columbia, to try their hand at picking blueberries for the first time.

More than 50 people were out to pick blueberries, raspberries andwild cherries, crops that Larriland grows almost exclusively for its"pick-your-own" business -- an enterprise that county farmers turn to as a profitable alternative to traditional harvesting.

"We didn't have blueberries in Costa Rica," Jonathan said, holding up a handful of cultivated berries he had just picked. "I like to pick 'em, and I like to eat 'em."

For Larriland owner Lynn Moore Arms, the pick-your-own business is the key to her success as a retail produce farmer.

Amid a season that has seen drought-like conditions, Larriland's blueberry, cherry and raspberry picking season has still brought inmore than 1,000 do-it-yourself pickers.

Such is the life of a farmer, who must adapt to the environment, whether it is dry or wet.

"Even though it hasn't been the best growing season ever, we've stillbeen having a good year," Arms said.

"People are coming here for the ambience. They kill a lot of birds with one stone, because they're not only giving the kids an outing but they're also getting fresh fruit."

noticeable Laura Chalmers of Frederick, who was picking cherries with her 9-year-old son, Jeremy, said she recently read a newspaper article that said area farmers may be facing a tough year. But as she looked around at the dozens of pickers out on a cool Monday morning, she couldn't believe it.

"Seems like there's lots of fruits out here, and I don't just mean the pickers," she said. "He (Jeremy) loves to get outside, and we both love fresh fruit. We haven't had any trouble finding places to pick."

It has rained 13.84 inches in the region this year, seven inches short of normal.

While strawberry season this year was cut short by unseasonably hot and dry weather,area farmers benefited. Pick-your-own farming flourished on sunny rather than rainy days.

"No one wants to go out in the rain to pick strawberries, no matter how good they may be," said Chuck Sharp, owner of Sharp Farm in Glenwood.

Sharp's 350-acre farm primarily depends on pick-your-own fruit produce as supplementary income to its wholesale vegetable business, which has been stung by the drought-like conditions. Thus, the fruit business is an important money-maker for the farm, Sharp said.

"Very few farms are faring well economically, and right now we're all walking around with frowns on our faces hoping for more rain," he said. "Having some pick-your-own business helps you out."

James Sanborn, the owner of the 50-acre Koandah Gardens farm in Highland, said he's had an average year.

Nevertheless, thepick-your-own season will still account for about half of his business, with the other half coming from his wholesale cantaloupe trade.

"Most farms have been cutting back on pick-your-own. I think it reached its peak about 10 years ago," Sanborn said. "But for the places that are still around, there's still a lot of people out there who want to have a day out in the field picking strawberries or blueberries."


* Koandah Gardens: near junction of Route108 and Route 216, Highland; 531-5444; owned by James M. Sandborn; strawberries; open May and June.

* Larriland Farm Inc.: 2415 Route 194, Woodbine (Exit 73 off Interstate 70); 442-2605 (Baltimore), 854-6110 (Washington); owned by the Moore family; seasonal fruits and vegetables; Christmas trees, firewood, tours and hayrides; open late Maythrough December.

* Sharp's Farm: 3779 Sharp Road, Glenwood; 489-4630; seasonal fruits and vegetables; farmer's market, bedding plants, educational programs; open May through first week of November.

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