June has berry lovers seeing red
ROCHESTER — Did you know that eight strawberries contain more vitamin C than a medium-size orange?
Strawberries are a summer favorite, and the season is upon us. Many growers in southeast Minnesota have reported fields full of blossoms and are now seeing reddening berries.
Firefly Berries, of Rochester, is one of 76 strawberry farms in Minnesota. It is a family-run farm where families can pick their own berries from June to October.
The business is run by Dean and Tonya Sanner, who purchased it in November 2010. The Sanners discovered the farm, then called Sterling Fruit Farm, when they moved to the area from Wisconsin. When the Sterlings put it up for sale, the Sanners decided to take over.
In their sixth summer of berry farming, the Sanners typically see about 100-200 people on an average day.
This year is off to a slower start due to a cold weekend in May that brought freezing temperatures.
"We lost at least 30-50 percent of our earliest variety," said Tonya Sanner. "It's the biggest berry we produce, poundage wise."
Firefly Berries grows three types of June-bearing berries. A June-bearing variety produces one heavy crop of strawberries during a 2-3 week period in June. This is in contrast to "ever bearing" strawberries, which produce smaller crops throughout the growing season.
The climate in Minnesota is most ideal forJune-bearing varieties, so that is what Firefly Berries chooses to grow.
The Sanners use crop rotation for their berries, hand-weed, maintain healthy soil and don't spray chemicals on their berries to ensure their freshness.
"Our berries are always picked fresh," Sanner said. "Customers can control how ripe they want their berries."
Many berry producers agree that the season will likely extend longer than usual, wrapping up around mid- to late July. Mild temperatures in the 70s and low 80s extend the season and allow berries to ripen at a steady pace, while excessive heat can cause the berries to ripen more quickly and shorten the season.
Aside from berry picking, Firefly Berries also offers educational tours and "farm to table" classes.
"It's more complicated than just buying berries from the store," Sanner said. "I want to teach people how they got there."
The Sanners don't have any plans for expanding the farm but are experimenting growing new types of berries such as gogi berries, honeyberries, and elderberries.
In addition to strawberries, the Sanners also grow blackberries, raspberries, concord grapes, red currants, raw honey, asparagus and rhubarb.
"Our favorite part is the berries," said sons Eliot and Ian Sanner.
Firefly Berries is open Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., and Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays are closed for tours by appointment only, and Sundays are closed.
If you can't make it during the week, Firefly Berries also sells at the Rochester Farmers Market every Saturday.
The Minnesota Grown Directory and website provide ideas for picking, eating, and storing locally grown strawberries. Consumers can easily find their nearest berry farm by visiting www.minnesotagrown.com and searching by city or ZIP code.