Eating in Iowa: The Berry Patch Farm
Aug 11, 2009
I'd enjoyed various berries from the Berry Patch Farm before, but I'd never gone out to this farm, south of Nevada, to pick my own berries until this summer.
Mike Henry, red hat, selling berries Saturday at the Des Moines Farmers' Market. The Henry family has owned the Berry Patch Farm located south of Nevada since the 1970s. Photograph by Jeremy Schweitzer
By Jeremy Schweitzer
We've been having a mild summer here in central Iowa, and while that might not be good for some of the crops, it has made some outdoor activities much more enjoyable. That includes visiting a farm to pick blueberries. I'd enjoyed various berries from the Berry Patch Farm before, but I'd never gone out to this farm, south of Nevada, to pick my own berries until this summer.
Every year, starting around May and usually going through October, they have a whole range of fruit and berries (as well as a few vegetables) on offer. They grow customer favorites, such as strawberries, and lesser known berries, such as red and black currants. According to Dean and Judy Henry, the owners of this farm since the 1970s, people come from as far away as Missouri specifically for the currants. Perhaps that’s because currants are still uncommon and little known to Americans, but for European immigrants, and Americans who have spent time abroad, the lack of currant options can be frustrating (I wondered why and found out, via the USDA , that the federal government banned commercial currant production from 1909 to 1966 due to the threat of white pine blister rust). In Europe, black currant juice is very popular and while traveling in Poland I was served a cake with red currants that was really delicious.
Sadly, the currants are done for the year, but the blueberries (a personal favorite) and red raspberries are in full swing. A few weeks ago when a couple of friends and I stopped by to pick berries, parking near the blueberries proved difficult because there were so many people picking them. Even last weekend with the threat of rain and the scorching heat there was a significant crowd. It’s not hard to figure out why the farm is so busy. If you've ever had a really fresh, ripe strawberry or blueberry you’ll have a hard time buying those big pretty berries that you see most often in the grocery store. Those commercial berries have had a long road to your local grocery store and by the time you get them home they aren’t very fresh – in fact – they may have started to go bad. Since the berries have to be transported they are often picked just shy of ripe or the varieties are chosen with criteria other than flavor. With fresh picked berries, such as the blueberries from the Berry Patch Farm, you can be sure that what you pick is ready to pop with juicy flavor. The fruit will probably keep longer too – all that transport and sitting time can take place in your own refrigerator, rather than a truck or shelf. What you pick on Saturday can provide fresh fruit all week, as well as pies, cobblers, or sauces for ice cream.
I also like buying from the Berry Patch Farm because of the Henry family’s attitude towards their land. Dean says that he wants to make the land better than when they bought it and his use of drip irrigation (where possible), Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and organic-style practices indicate that he practices what he preaches. Not ones to follow the crowd, Dean and Judy aren’t trying for organic certification, so if that is important to you, their produce won’t be up your alley. For my money though, I’d pick a locally, responsibly grown product over an organic product from Chile any day. Why? If I want to know how that blueberry I’m about to put in my mouth was grown, I can visit the farm and ask Dean.
Currently most of their blueberries and raspberries are raised using organic practices and the use of IPM allows the farm to minimize the use of chemicals. IPM is labor-intensive, requiring pest and plant health monitoring, record-keeping, and a large degree of knowledge about both the pests and the plants. By using IPM Dean estimates that he has reduced the amount of chemicals used for pest control to 20 percent of what he used when he started farming. If you’ve never heard of IPA before, here’s the EPA’s definition.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment.
The Berry Patch Farm offers pick your own hours Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, but has sales hours daily and makes appearances at several area farmers’ markets. Picking your own fruit is a great activity for kids, although you might need to plan ahead for a bit of a mess. There have been several families with young children at the farm each time I’ve been there and, while the kids were having a blast, they quickly gained stained fingers, mouths, and probably clothes. The farm has containers and bags available for picking, but I recommend bringing your own buckets or bowls to put your berries in for the trip home. If you’re traveling to the farm from further away than a nearby community I recommend a cooler with plenty of ice as well. There is still plenty of time to get to the farm this year. I’ve got a few visits planned to pick more blueberries and raspberries.
Jeremy Schweitzer has been eating since birth and writing the blog, Roasting Rambler, since 2007. He's a Project Coordinator for the Child Welfare Project at Iowa State University and is working on a master’s degree in communication. You can read his blog at: http://www.roastingrambler.com