Grab a slice of summer at Brouwer Berries

A happy family of pickers at Brouwer Berries. Contributed photo

A happy family of pickers at Brouwer Berries. Contributed photo

Once again this summer, visitors of all ages will be coming to get a slice of summer at Brouwer Berries, a strawberry farm north of Prinsburg.

The farmyard is filled with trees and flowers, pygmy goats, bunnies, ducks, turkeys and chickens, but the biggest attraction is always the Strawberry Express.  The tractor pulls everyone on a ride through the grove, and to the field, where the powerful scent of strawberries in the summer sunshine greets them.

“It is not uncommon to hear a collective gasp from the group when the wagon comes out of the grove and into the delicious wave of scent,” said Sarah Brouwer, who owns and operates Brouwer Beries along with her husband, Dan.

Children run, laughing and pointing at the sparkling red fruit, and parents sit down in the clean straw, and start filling their buckets.  Grandparents look around with delight, so thrilled at this chance to connect with the land and with their kids at the same time, without having to do any of the weeding!

After picking last year, Keri M. commented on Facebook, “We have been to this farm for several years now.  The experience is amazing!  We were in the patch for 15 minutes and picked 25 pounds of strawberries!  This year’s crop is out of this world!  Big, sweet, juicy berries!  If you want the best, go here.”

Alinda Brouwer with a full batch of ripe ones.  Contributed photo

Alinda Brouwer with a full batch of ripe ones.
Contributed photo

“What a wonderful experience for ‘kids’ of all ages!” posted Katie K. “Was such a great time with the kids that we went twice!  Can’t wait to enjoy these berries and jam during the long Minnesota winter.  Thanks again for a great time!”

Having people come to the farm has been a project 16 years in the making for Dan and Sarah Brouwer.  As a child, Dan yearned to farm full time, working on local dairies after school and then going to college for an agricultural science degree.  He realized quickly after graduation that he simply didn’t have enough money to get into dairy farming and support his wife and their child.  But his farming dream didn’t die; it just needed a new idea to make it work for the family.

  On a trip to Ontario to visit his wife’s family, they went strawberry picking on a u-pick farm.  A light bulb went on as he looked at all the families picking strawberries together.

“I realized there was nothing like this in southwestern Minnesota,” said Dan. “If I could grow strawberries on the side, while working full-time construction, I could support my family and still have a chance to work the land.”

Dan started small, experimenting with different varieties of strawberries in different parts of his parents’ farm. He also attended seminars to learn how to grow specialty crops in Minnesota’s extreme climate.  For 10 years, Dan and Sarah did everything by hand– planting, weeding and harvesting. They put all their earnings into specialty tools and expanding their irrigation system.

Today, Dan is on the cusp of achieving his dream.

“The farm is nearing the point where it can support my family,” he said.

And as icing on the cake,  he figured out a way to incorporate cows into his farming. The cows get to graze some delectable cover crop as part of the strawberry rotation.

There are 12 acres currently in the Brouwer Berries crop rotation.  Six acres of strawberries in production, three acres of baby strawberry plants  and three acres resting in cover crop.  All 12 acres are tiled, and the tile line runs to one of their irrigation ponds so that excess spring rains can be used during dry spells later in the summer.  Pumps at the pond can direct water through metal irrigation pipes above ground if the plants need spring frost protection, or underground through drip irrigation tubes.   

Dan’s five children all know what it is like to work on the farm.  From the time they were babies, toddling in the field while their parents toiled, they have learned what it takes to grow and sell a good product.  Each child has a chance to pursue their own interest.  One child likes to tinker with the machinery, another  prefers to take care of the farm critters, while another likes to manage the sales and social media.

Bill Dean, host of the Morning Brew on KWLM AM 1340 and 96.3FM posted on Facebook, “I really enjoyed interviewing Sarah and (her daughter) Alinda on KWLM … and then traveling to the farm and meeting Dan and the rest of the family at Brouwer Berries; they have a wonderful family and a first class operation and this year’s strawberry crop is tops!”

Brouwer Berries, owned and operated by the Brouwer family. Contributed photo

Brouwer Berries, owned and operated by the Brouwer family. Contributed photo

Dan and his family believe that they are blessed.  Taking their children along, Dan and Sarah have always tithed their first fruits, the first big picking of the year, to either the Willmar Area Food Shelf or to Meals on Wheels.  At the end of the harvest, they choose people or groups to glean through the field to get anything the u-pickers missed.  Just having the business available is a blessing though, for the hundreds of people who come to pick, and the dozens of teens who have been hired there over the summers.

As the numbers of customers has swelled over the years, the loyalty has also swelled.  Children grow up eagerly anticipating their trips to Brouwer Berries, remembering the fun, the flavor, and the farm critters.  Grandparents and parents snap dozens of pictures, storing away that sweet slice of shared summer.

“Summers are short, as we all know, and this is why it is so fun to get posts from customers long after the season has closed down,” said Sarah.

In March, Tesa S. posted, “I just wanted to say thank-you, thank-you for growing beautiful berries.  I used up my last 8 quarts frozen for a seedless sauce.  It turned out like, like happiness!”

“Awesome berries. Wonderful family. What more could you ask for? Come one, come all!” posted Betty H. of Willmar.

It’s nearly berry picking season, and the berries will be ripe before you know it. To be alerted of the season’s start, go to www.brouwerberries.com and enter your e-mail address. You will be notified when the berries are ready. Also, go to Facebook and “like” Brouwer Berries so you don’t miss out on all the fun farm photos.  Most of all, pile into the car with your friends and family, and drive to Brouwer Berries to get your own slice of summer farm happiness.

Brouwer Berries are located at 12951 105th St. SW, Raymond, MN 56282. Dan and Sarah can be reached at (320) 967-4718 or email at Sarah@brouwerberries.com.