BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — For longtime farmer Jan Sanderson, raising children is considered easy compared to growing strawberries.
“You have to be tenacious and resilient,” Sanderson told KELOLAND News. You’re gonna have problems.”
In his more than 40 years of farming, Sanderson said he’s lost entire strawberry crops to frost, insects, heavy rain, wind and hail. Despite some close calls with many nights of frost in May, the 2021 strawberry season is shaping up to be a banner year.
“We had to turn the water on to keep them from freezing,” Sanderson said, adding he sprinkled his crop seven nights in a row when the berries started to bloom. “Three weeks later, we’re turning them on to keep them from burning up.”
Water from the Big Sioux River Aquifer is 52 degrees, Sanderson said, which is warm enough to prevent the berries from freezing and cool enough to keep them from overheating. His irrigation setup does the rest of the work as Brookings County has seen less than 2 inches of rain this spring.
“It’s looking like it’ll be a great year,” Josie Sanderson, Jan’s daughter, said. “There’s a ton of berries that have been put on. It should be really warm and they should rippen real fast.”
Josie was picking asparagus Friday morning, but she’s ready to taste the first strawberry of the season. A few of the berries have ripened and turned red, but the main harvest is still days away.
“Tasting one for the first time is always real sweet,” Josie said. “It should be such a great year. It should be easy to pick your own. Come out and try it.”
Jan said like many farms and businesses, he’s looking for extra summer help for picking crops. He’s also encouraged families and anyone interested in purchasing his strawberries to stop out and pick their own.
“We are pushing to pick your own,” Jan said, who noted 2020 was the busiest season his farm had.
The farm is open for picking from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Supervised picking is available in the morning 8 a.m. to noon.
Sanderson said a lot of families and kids are his customers, a change from when it was mostly older ladies “wanting to stock their freezers.”
“We let people eat all they want,” Sanderson said. “They are sweet and delicious. Every one of them tastes different.”
Josie noted people can eat the strawberries fresh, cook or bake with them as well as freeze them.
Along with strawberries, Jan grows rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, colored corn and pumpkins on about 40 acres. He plants strawberries in the spring and shortly after a full year, the berries are ready to pick. The plants are perennials which he keeps growing for about three years until weeds get to be too bad.
“It’s kind of a challenge and that’s why I keep doing it,” Sanderson said. “I just look for problems and try to solve them.”