Brouwer Berries offers sweet strawberries and  family fun on the farm

Have you ever looked at your kids or grandkids and thought, “We need to get these kids off their devices and onto the farm?” But is that even possible in 2017?

This family was all smiles as they picked strawberries at Brouwer Berries near Raymond. Contributed photo

“Yes!” said Sarah Brouwer, who owns Brouwer Berries near Raymond with her husband, Dan. “Our farm is growing and expanding—and you are invited to take the people in your life to our farm, where they will experience the joy of the harvest!”

The first thing people notice when they start picking (and sneak a berry or two) is that locally grown strawberries taste different than store-bought ones.

“What a surprise for a first-timer who puts a sun-ripened strawberry into her mouth and feels the burst of juice, the warmth and sweetness, and the explosion of flavor,” said Brouwer. “I can’t help but smile every time I see this, because it such a joy to see the dawning wonder in a person’s eyes as she swallows that strawberry, and then looks around at the rows and rows of red berries nestled under their green canopies. Sometimes, a person has juice running down her chin, and she exclaims that she didn’t even know that strawberries could have juice.”

Brouwer Berries is a family farm with six acres of strawberries. They started very small back in 2000.

“We planted a few rows at the edge of my in-law’s bean field and invited people from our church to come out and pick,” said Brouwer. “Word kept spreading, and our rows were cleaned up pretty quickly.”

The Brouwers did this for about 10 years, until they decided to expand their operation.

“A few years ago, my in-laws moved to a lake home, and our family moved into the farm house,” she said. “My husband and I took a deep breath and decided to go all in with the strawberries. We enrolled in a class for specialty crops with a strawberry expert in Brainerd, and we studied up on soil, cover cropping, and farm management.

All Aboard!

“A visit to our farm is a ton of fun! First, you get to take a wagon ride on the Strawberry Express through the grove to the strawberry field,” said Brouwer.

As the Strawberry Express comes out of the grove, visitors will find rows and rows of strawberry plants neatly laid out before them. Each plant is full of berries and between each row is the shine of golden straw.

“There will be an aroma in the air that will simply intoxicate you,” she said. “The scent is a delicious mixture of sun on straw, a sweet fermenting from the overripe berries, and the wildflowers blowing in from the CRP land.”

Each visitor is assigned a row and given a tray to place their picked strawberries, along with a red flag to mark where picking should start.

Picking and handling the strawberries is an important part of the process.

“Strawberries are like a can of pop – you shouldn’t remove the top until you are ready to serve them, in order to keep the flavor locked in,” said Brouwer. “As you pick, you should gently place the strawberries, with their stems, into your trays. Our strawberries don’t ripen after they are picked, so look at the tip of your strawberry and only pick berries that are red all the way to the tips. Treat them as gently as you would an apple, so that they don’t bruise and start to leak their juice.”

After picking is done, the row is marked, and the visitors take the wagon back through the grove.

“We will weigh your strawberries, less the cost of the container, and you will pay for the strawberries by the pound,” she said.

And the fun continues after the berries are picked.

Another happy customer at Brouwer Berries.
Photo by Dennis Benson

“You may walk around the farm and check out our little farm critters,” she said. “Children may go into the pen with the chicks and bunnies, and hold them on their laps. They may pet the calves and goats, and feed them little hay pellets or handfuls of grass. Those critters love to eat! Children may play in the sandbox or by the pond and waterfall while parents and grandparents can rest in the shade.”

More and more people are picking at Brouwer Berries and leaving satisfied. Here are a couple of testimonials.

“We have been to this farm for several years now. The experience is amazing! This year, 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,” said Keri M., of Spicer.

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

Prepicked

Not everyone has the time or health to pick their own strawberries. No problem. The Brouwer Berries team will take care of all the picking.  Visitors may call or e-mail ahead to place an order, or simply drive up to get a 10-pound flat of prepicked strawberries.

“Even if you just get prepicked strawberries, you may also enjoy a ride on the Strawberry Express, just to see the field, or walk around the farm to see the flowers and farm critters,” said Brouwer.

Risk Management

Growing good strawberries in harsh Minnesota weather and heavy clay soil has been a challenge for the Brouwers, but they have faced these challenges head on and found solutions. “We are the farm furthest west in Minnesota for a reason. In fact, if you keep driving west, you’d have to go all the way to Montana to find the next strawberry farm,” said Brouwer.  “Since we do not have insurance on our crop, we’ve done everything we can to self-insure by figuring out ways to manage weather extremes. After an 11- inch rain event a few years ago, we put drainage tile under all our fields. After years of drought, we dug two irrigation ponds to capture and save snow melt. We put drip irrigation under every row of strawberries to conserve our water while still providing our plants with moisture. We have solid-set irrigation pipes and pumps ready every spring in case we need to overhead irrigate to protect the blossoms from late spring frosts. The 2016 spring was challenging as we had to frost-protect two nights in a row, watering the plants with our precious water from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Thankfully, the crop was saved!

Cover Crops and Cattle

“The biggest change the past few years has been incorporating cover cropping and cattle grazing into our strawberry crop rotation,” said Brouwer. “This year’s strawberry crop will be the first one grown on land that was both cover cropped and grazed, and our plants look healthier this year than ever before. We get excited as we hold handfuls of dirt and marvel at how moist and alive it feels. It is very different from the dirt in the bean field.”

Incorporating livestock into a specialty crops rotation is unique, said Brouwer.

“We are only the third farm in the state to try it. We have been doing regular soil testing, and we’ve been excited to watch our nutrient and organic matter levels rise. As our soil health increases, our plant health will increase, and we will be able to grow even better strawberries.”

WCCO Best in MN

Last summer, Brouwer Berries was voted Best in MN for places to pick strawberries.

“It was almost surreal to have Natalie Nyhus and her cameraman come out to the farm and spend a few hours filming. Please go to our website www.brouwerberries.com to see the wonderful video clip they put together and aired on WCCO.”

Nyhus was impressed by the sweetness of the berries, and so was the rest of the WCCO staff as noted in a thank you note to the Brouwers.

“It’s such a wonderful family business. It’s no wonder Brouwer Berries was voted Best of MN! Thank-you for hosting us and for the amazing berries. The newsroom LOVED them. They were gone in minutes! I had to save that last quart (to go on camera)!”

Visit in June

If you would like to pick or buy some strawberries from Brouwer Berries, it is just a matter of time before the strawberries will be ready.

“The strawberries will be ripe, Lord willing, for only about three weeks in mid-June to early July,” said Brouwer.

Go to www.brouwerberries.com and enter your e-mail address to be alerted to the season’s start. Also, go to Facebook and “like” Brouwer Berries so you don’t miss out on all the fun farm photos.

“Then, get together with your friends and family and experience the joy of the harvest on our family farm,” said Brouwer.

Brouwer Berries is located at 12951 105th St. SW in Raymond. They can be reached by phone at 320-967-4718 or email at sarah@brouwerberries.com.