According to Minnesota Grown, there are 87 strawberry farms spread across the state. Most of the U-pick operations opened last week. But between the unusual weather and our pandemic stir-craziness, some farms are already warning they could be picked over by July 4th. (Families seeking socially distanced Father’s Day activities didn’t help the supply-and-demand issue.)
That’s why we made a special weekday field trip to Rod’s Berry Farm in North Branch, 50 minutes outside the Twin Cities. Within seconds of parking on the 80-acre Arcadian property, we were greeted by Rod Elmstrand himself. The gregarious farmer has been in the berry business for 39 years; he also raises cattle and grows pumpkins and sorghum.
After weighing the pails we brought from home, Rod assigned us to an unpicked row in the middle of the field. In half an hour, we’d gathered two heaping gallons’ worth of ruby-red fruit. This year’s berries are on the small side, but Rod says they’re some of the sweetest and juiciest he’s ever tasted. Snacking on handfuls in the car ride home, we couldn’t agree more. At $2.45 per pound, you’ll pay a premium but they’re so much tastier than the morbidly obese, watered-down Driscoll’s that dominate the grocery chains.
Back home in Minneapolis, we froze a third of our freshly picked bounty and also made strawberry jam, a strawberry shrub, and Jerelle Guy’s delightfully rustic strawberry spoon cake recipe from a recent New York Times roundup. Up next: her strawberry pretzel pie and strawberry drop biscuits.
Rod’s Berry Farm is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It accepts cash, check, EBT, or credit card. Masks are encouraged and they ask visitors limit their party size. For the most up-to-date info on berry availability, call 651-674-4172 or visit rodsberryfarm.com before setting out.
Rod’s Berry Farm
28624 Zodiac St. NE, North Branch, MN; 51-674-4172.