Typically, summer in Minnesota means spending time outside with friends, exploring events and restaurants, and creating new traditions. But this year, summer looks a little different.
And, while going to the grocery store is still a fun excuse to leave the house, some Minnesotans are taking the time to make their produce runs a bit more hands-on.
Many farms across the state, dubbed U-pick farms, allow their customers to go out into the field and gather their own fruits and vegetables. The U-pick process is a mutually beneficial system for farms and consumers—local berry farms are able to sell their fruit without hiring a massive labor force, and customers can find local produce and experience where their food comes from.
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, raspberry and blueberry season is in full swing during the month of July. Luckily, berry farmers across the state have plenty of space to make the experience safe for patrons.
“We’ve adapted how we space people in the field. Our raspberries and blueberries range between 9 and 12 [feet] between rows, so we’ve been able to accommodate that a little easier,” says Kevin Edberg, the owner and managing partner of the Berry Patch in Forest Lake, Minnesota.
Since he started working at the farm in 1978 as a sophomore in college, Edberg has now seen 43 seasons of strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry harvests. And though agriculture is notoriously unpredictable, this year the Berry Patch has had to make some extra adjustments so berry picking can still go on safely.
All of Edberg’s employees wear masks when interacting with customers, who are encouraged (though not required) to do the same. Raspberries and blueberries are sold by the container under a tent, and the farm has implemented some logistical maneuvering to ensure that people pick fruit on alternating sides of the plant.
“We’re leveraging the vulnerability of the virus to outdoor environments and taking advantage of all the advice about being outdoors as much as possible,” Edberg says.
Even though COVID-19 has made things a bit more complicated for the Berry Patch, Edberg is grateful that his business can still thrive after implementing CDC guidelines—a luxury that not every Minnesota establishment has.
Edberg says berry pickers could be stopping by because more people are cooking and baking at home, because of an increased awareness of healthy eating, or even because of a primal longing to get out into nature in the midst of what has turned out to be a turbulent and uncertain summer.
Not everything has been going smoothly for berry growers, however. Edberg says early freezing temperatures last November and cold days in May made this year’s strawberry season especially short.
But the Berry Patch is looking forward to a better July. The blueberry and raspberry plants are looking strong, and the lack of severe weather so far has left the fruit in great condition.
If you’re planning on visiting a U-pick berry farm before the season ends in early August, Edberg suggests wearing sunblock, close-toed shoes, and clothing you wouldn’t mind getting a little dirty.
Also, due to the unpredictability of storms and how many customers visit each day, most berry farmers update their picking hours frequently. Edberg recommends calling or checking a farm’s social media before making the drive, to be sure that there are enough berries for you to pick.
The Berry Patch, he says, is all about supporting that Minnesotan tradition of berry farming.
“It’s not that the California stuff is a bad berry—I’m not going to say that,” he says, “but it’s a different berry, bred to handle transportation and storage. And so, they’re different products. [U-pick farms] give people a different sensory experience with their fruit. Folks might value that, appreciate that, at least for three weeks, four weeks a year.
He adds that he consistently sees “young parents and middle-aged parents who are very interested in sharing their experience with their children. And so, all of these things encourage you to say, ‘Here is something that we can do that’s fun, that’s nutritious, that’s aesthetically pleasing, and that gets us out into nature—what’s not to like?’”
More Berry Farms
The Berry Patch is one of many blueberry and raspberry farms in Minnesota. If you’re interested in finding a farm near you, check out Minnesota Grown’s website here, which identifies Minnesota produce for consumers and wholesalers. Or you can visit Pick Your Own’s website here, which categorizes farms based on county.
Below are some of our top picks for berry farms in Minnesota:
The Strawberry Basket & Big Woods Nectar
Don’t let the name fool you! Though Strawberry Basket & Big Woods Nectar has finished their strawberry season, they’re still offering pick-your-own blueberries. They plan on scheduling at least two or three more pick dates through the end of July. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, they ask that everyone who comes to the field wash their hands and maintain social distancing guidelines. Learn more here.
Where: Monticello, MN
Berry Hill Farm
Berry Hill Farm is half-way through their raspberry season, and are planning on offering U-pick dates for the next couple weeks. They’re following the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s coronavirus guidelines, which encourage all patrons to wear masks, maintain 6 feet of distance between parties, and only handle berries you purchase. Learn more here.
Where: Anoka, MN
Little Hill Berry Farm
Little Hill Berry Farm offers U-pick and pre-picked blueberries for fruit lovers south of the Twin Cities metro. Their blueberries are also USDA-certified organic. The farm’s employees will wear masks and ask customers to practice social distancing. Learn more here.
Where: Northfield, MN
Blueberry Fields of Stillwater
This season of blueberry picking is especially different for Blueberry Fields of Stillwater—in addition to requiring customers to wear masks and maintain social distance at the farm, they have also welcomed a new owner, Summer Kuehn. Blueberry Fields of Stillwater offers both U-pick and pre-picked blueberries throughout the month of July. Learn more here.
Where: Stillwater, MN
J.Q. Fruit Farm and Orchard
J.Q. Fruit Farm has six acres and four varieties of U-pick and pre-picked blueberries that will be available for the next few weeks. They also have a small amount of ripe summer raspberries to pick. The farm is following the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s COVID-19 guidelines, and asks that customers wash their hands, stay home if they feel ill, and wear a mask if they so choose. Learn more here.
What: Blueberries and raspberries
Where: Princeton, MN
White Pine Berry Farm
Western Wisconsin’s White Pine Berry Farm sells a variety of U-pick blueberries, raspberries, and currants—all certified organic. The farm is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in July, though they recommend calling ahead before making the drive. White Pine Berry Farm also accommodates U-pick appointments on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for those who would like a more private and socially distant berry picking experience. Learn more here.
What: Raspberries, blueberries, and currants
Where: Pine River, WI