By Casey Gale
When Judy Simons Church graduated from Rider with degrees in English and education in 1980, she never expected to take over her family business, Simons Berry Farm. Yet 34 years later, she has found herself donating to her alma mater 10,000 cranberries she harvested to help Rider achieve the Guinness World Record for fruit stringing on Nov. 8.
Church, a fifth-generation farmer, began learning the ropes at her family’s farm in 1996, after her father fell ill. After being an English teacher in South Carolina for 15 years, this was a drastic life change.
“The first year or two were sort of my training and learning — kind of by the seat of my pants,” she said. “That was a challenge, because I hadn’t really been groomed to take over the farm. I was sent off to school and educated and I had a whole career in teaching. But circumstances in life take a turn, and there’s a change, and there’s a need. Being an only child, I knew it was the right thing for me to do to come back home.”
The turn of events led her to take up the reins of the 185-year-old berry farm in Tabernacle, N.J., which coincidentally sits just 22 miles up Rt. 206 from Andrew J. Rider’s cranberry bog in Hammonton, N.J. Her commitment to “bleeding cranberry” caught the attention of Beverly Braddock, special events and projects manager, one year ago.
Braddock’s request that she consider donating to Rider’s world record attempt excited Church, as she fondly remembers her time in Lawrenceville.
“I loved the whole Rider experience,” she said. “I
loved the education I received, the new friends that I made, and the faculty and staff that I got to know. As an education major, my department was very small. We got to be a very close, intimate group, especially through my junior and senior year.”
The project has grown by several thousand berries since Church first became involved, as Rider has decided to reach far beyond the 6,010-fruit stringing record, broken in Italy in August with peaches.
“Initially, Bev had said that she wanted me to donate a little over 6,000 berries, and I said, ‘Let’s plan on doing 7,000, so that way then we’ll have more than enough,’” said Church. “In the last month or so, since the momentum has increased and the enthusiasm has increased with this event, the goal is now that they want to string 10,000 berries.”
Church also harvests blueberries at her farm, but her primary crop is cranberries. She has donated Champion cranberries to this event, an heirloom variety that has been growing for over 100 years.
“They are my largest berry, and people tend to like the big berries. They have a beautiful color to them,” she said. “And it was rather fitting that I chose the Champion berry to make a champion chain with. I hadn’t really thought about it or planned it, but it’s true.”
Church will be on hand for the cranberry-stringing event, distributing free literature and recipes, fresh berries from her farm for purchase and items donated by Ocean Spray, to which she is a contracted grower-owner.
For the actual record-breaking process, Kaitlyn Cameron, a senior public relations major and assistant in the Office of the President, has been one of a handful of students helping to plan the event.
“I’ve just been helping Bev with different scenarios — how should we string it? How should we tie it off? How will we be carrying them?”
Per Guinness World Record guidelines, Cameron said the attempt must be sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“We’re going to be using 100 percent cotton for the stringing,” she said. “If you’re making something, you have to get rid of it. You can’t just throw it out. So if you made a big pie, you’d need to have someone eat it.”
Once the project is complete, it will be up to local wildlife to eat the berries, which will be left in the back of campus for animals to consume. Not only will it make a world record for the school and a tasty treat for the animals, but it is also, according to Cameron, a fitting way to celebrate the sesquicentennial.
“Cranberries are such a staple of Rider that I think it’s a really cool way to celebrate the university,” Cameron said. “This just brings back all the history of Rider, and Andrew J. Rider as the Cranberry King.”