When adding new crops to a farm’s offerings, conventional wisdom would hold that one should first have a market lined up. At Berry Patch Farm, however, owners Dean and Judy Henry have been known to plant a crop first and create a market later.
“When we started growing gooseberries, it took 20 years to have a market for those,” says Dean, who, together with Judy, has been raising berries and other fruits since 1970. “We had a different gooseberry than Iowa wild ones, which are difficult to use well since they’re so small. So when we started growing larger, cultivated gooseberries, everybody kind of smiled.”
Now, however, customers love the bigger gooseberry, Dean says. The same curiosity inspired the Henrys to plant honeyberries and elderberries on their farm a few years ago.
“There have been some promoters showing up at conferences promoting those, and that caught my interest,” Dean says. “There’s not yet much customer demand for either – but elderberry has great health benefits. It’s being sold in drug stores as a cough medicine, and some family cooks have been making elderberry cough syrup. We like to try to satisfy small, niche markets.”
Dean, Judy and their son, Mike Henry, will share their experience with these new fruits – and familiar ones, like black currants and blueberries – at a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day they are hosting on Wednesday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on their farm near Nevada (62785 280th St., a few miles south of town).
The event – “Grafting, Summer Pruning and New Fruits at Berry Patch” – is free to attend and includes lunch. RSVPs are requested for the meal by Friday, June 9. Please contact Debra Boekholder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-232-5661. The field day is sponsored by Iowa Farmers Union, Niman Ranch and Wheatsfield Co-op.
Dean will show guests his blueberry, black currant, elderberry and honeyberry plantings, and discuss varieties and management. Attendees will also learn about the oft-neglected practice of summer-pruning apples and cherries, and Dean will show comparisons of trees pruned in 2016 and those left unpruned. Joe Hannan, horticulture specialist with Iowa State University, will join Dean to discuss grafting, and guests will look at the success of some recent cherry tree bud grafts. In the afternoon, the group will take a hayrack ride to tour the rest of the farm.
“The theme of the whole day is to share what we’ve learned from making mistakes with all these items,” Dean says. He adds that the field day will take place during Berry Patch Farm’s pick-your-own strawberry season, and guests will be able to stay to pick some fruit to take home.
Berry Patch Farm features 14 acres of strawberries; 10 acres of blueberries; six acres of raspberries; five acres of apples; two acres of cherries, plums and black raspberries and one acre of currants and gooseberries, in addition to other fruits. The family also raises pumpkins, peas and other vegetables outdoors and in greenhouses. They sell primarily through U-pick and farmers’ markets.