Things have been somewhat tricky this year for the Wallin Berry Farm east of Nisswa thanks to inclement weather early on and a global health crisis leading to stay-at-home orders.
Despite that, it has had the same amount of support from customers as ever before.
The farm was open at fairly regular times, but its strawberry crop had faced adversity after too much early season cold weather.
“Everything is different this year for strawberries,” farm operator Calvin Wallin said. “We just didn’t have a good crop, with winter damage and also an unexpected frost that killed most of my blossoms. This is about the poorest crop and the shortest season I have ever had.”
July 4 was the last day to pick strawberries; however, Wallin does expect a good crop of blueberries in the next week or so.
“They are looking really good, and so are the raspberries,” he said. “They usually start coming up sometime between the 10th and the 20th (of July). The raspberries may be a couple of days ahead of the blueberries, but they usually come up around the same time and last two or three weeks.”
The farm, like most businesses, felt some of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has seen the benefits of a reopening society and families looking for activities where social distancing is easy to maintain.
“This year, we have probably had as many customers - if not more - than we have ever had,” Wallin said. “There have been plenty of people … People want to get out and enjoy some things in nature.”
The majority of berry pickers Wallin has seen have been families, which he said is nice to see. Much like fishing, berry picking provides people and families with an outdoor activity in a summer where many organized activities have been canceled or postponed.
Wallin said his farm is able to weather many of the COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health because many of those guidelines have been standard practice at the farm for years.
“We have always had a washing station for your hands, and we have hand sanitizer too, so it hasn’t made too much of a difference. With strawberries, we probably have seven miles of rows to pick in, so there hasn’t been much of a problem for space. We have a lot of space in the open air," he said.
That said, new precautions have been put in place. Both employees and customers showing any symptoms are asked to stay home. Customers are not required to wear masks in the field, but the field supervisor assigns them to rows to ensure safe distances.
Also, communal surfaces are sanitized regularly, and the longtime “Do not consume berries while picking” rule is taken very seriously this year.
“We have been careful about it and taking the precautions that need to be taken, but it is not like the stores that have close contact,” Wallin said. “If people want to wear masks, they can. Some have and some haven’t, but you can be really separated from other people. To me, it hasn’t seemed like much of a problem for people.”
Check the farm's Facebook page - Wallin Berry Farm, Nisswa, MN - for information on picking blueberries and raspberries.
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.