BAKER — In early August 2017, Greg Evers called his wife out of the blue.

He was upset and asked what would happen to his beloved strawberry farm if something were to happen to him. She promised him that she would take care of it.

Evers died in a car crash three weeks later.

Evers’ farm, Akers of Strawberries, was his passion.

“Of all the things he loved, he loved growing strawberries,” Lori Evers said of her husband, who had countless interests from agriculture to politics and everything in-between.

Strawberries become her passion as well — and the farm was loved by the community for generations until his death.

Today, Akers of Strawberries sits vacant on Melton Road, right off the highway that now bears the former state senator's name.

The building where families ate homemade strawberry shortcake has a “closed” sign on the door. The field where hundreds of children on school trips stood in the sun and let the red juice of the fruit drip down their faces is overgrown.

“Right now, it will take a miracle,” Lori said of reopening the farm. “But I believe in miracles.”

Carrying on a legacy

When Lori isn’t at work, all she does is think about the farm. It will take more work than she ever imagined, but she’s confident that one day the kids who grew up visiting Akers can return with their own children and carry on the tradition.

“That was the most important legacy,” Lori said. “I am not a farmer, but I am doing everything I can to do something with it. I’m working so hard to get the money to get it back in operation. It’s my top personal priority right now.”

Akers of Strawberries is headed for foreclosure, but Lori says she won’t let that happen. Although some days it seems impossible, she knows her vision — Akers 2.0, she calls it — will soon become a reality.

But she wants to figure it out on her own. She doesn’t want to raise money or ask for help when there are people around her who have their own problems, she said.

“I just need to plant some strawberries. It’ll happen one day at a time and one plant at a time. It’ll be what it’s meant to be. It’ll be a little different, and that’ll be OK, too."

In the beginning, in the end

Akers of Strawberries started with a stroke of inspiration.

After Evers attended a strawberry festival in 1994, he decided to open his own farm for the community to enjoy. Although he was a farmer for nearly his entire life, he had to learn everything about strawberries on his own.

Eventually the dream became a reality.

"His favorite thing was the field trips (to the farm). He loved those kids," Lori said.

And the kids loved him back. Families across Northwest Florida and even across the country have memories of fall days spent at the farm.

"My family and I have been going there since I was a teen," said Nicole Hood, who continued to take her kids when she was an adult.

Matt Brown grew up in the Baker area and remembers learning about Akers while attending Baker School in the late 1990s.

"My first visit to Akers was during a school field trip," Brown said. "My last memory of the place was when I stopped by and came across the late Sen. Greg Evers there, who was hard at work, wearing overalls and overseeing the field's maintenance. I wasn't expecting to see him there, but he was very friendly telling me hello.

"It was a great place to visit, for sure. One of the hidden gems of the Baker area."

Lori can’t wait for the day children can return on field trips. She’s even considering growing more than strawberries, like lavender, vanilla or vegetables. And she wants to have family activities such as 4H.

She knows it will be hard work — waking up early to tend to the plants, staying up all night to lay plastic before a freeze, planting 120,000 strawberry plants by hand — but it will all be worth it.

“Just to see that little kid with red on his face,” Lori said. “I want to make it something Greg would be proud of.”