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Published June 22, 2009, 07:47 AM

Raspberries in bloom on dream farm in N.D.

Three years ago, the Gehrig family sold nearly all their possessions and began their search for the perfect piece of land to grow raspberries. A pull-tab advertisement in their hometown Cenex station led them to an 80-acre parcel at the very tip of Richland County, where the sloped terrain fit their dream.

By: An AP Member Exchange Feature By Erin C. Hevern, Wahpeton Daily News, The Jamestown Sun

KINDRED, N.D. — Three years ago, the Gehrig family sold nearly all their possessions and began their search for the perfect piece of land to grow raspberries.

A pull-tab advertisement in their hometown Cenex station led them to an 80-acre parcel at the very tip of Richland County, where the sloped terrain fit their dream.

Karen and Chris Gehrig’s vision is quickly becoming reality. The Red Barn and Berry Farm, in rural Kindred, is expecting its first crop this July.

“We (also) knew that the raspberries loved sand and they don’t like clay,” said Karen Gehrig, explaining how the terrain caters to the juicy, plum-colored fruit. “We were able to sell enough assets to buy 40 acres of it.”

The Gehrigs’ search began when they realized their four children would soon be spending their daytime hours in a classroom. Karen Gehrig had two choices — go back to work or find a hobby that allowed her the time she needed to continue volunteering and attend events at her children’s school.

When pieces of the Gehrig’s raspberry farm began to fall into place, they added a feature to their family project — a red barn.

Karen said she and Chris thought it would be fun to renovate a two-story barn and rent it out for weddings, receptions and other special events.

“My husband and I like to entertain,” she said.

A year after buying the 40-acre plot in 2007, the couple ended up moving a two-story red barn from a farm in Sheldon.

Today, the barn sits west of their germinating raspberry crop, north of the Gehrig white farm house. Last May, the Gehrigs divided 4,500 raspberry plants in 50, 200 foot-long rows.

“That’s the May day we got that ice storm,” Karen said. “So, we got one row done, or two, in the freezing 30-degree weather.”

Although the couple quit planting early that day, they quickly got back to work after renting a trencher, which alleviated the strains of planting the raspberry seeds by hand.

The majority of the Gehrigs’ crop is fall bearing, which requires the family to mow down the plant every spring.

“Those shoots are coming up now,” Karen said.

Their summer-bearing raspberries will come up this year, but won’t produce a crop until 2010.

“You can’t mow these down. They must be hand pruned,” she said.

Two types of berries make up their fall bearing crop — Autumn Britten and Jaclyn.

Autumn Britten is a firmer red raspberry that ripens earlier than most and grows to be about 4 feet tall and about 4 feet wide. Jaclyn, a darker berry, produces in early summer and doesn’t scald in high light and temperatures.

Their summer-bearing crop, called Boyne, was developed in northern Minnesota and bears large, dark red fruit.

“They are made to grow in this area. They can withstand temperatures of -45,” Karen said.

Each variety is a bare root plant, certified and virus free.

“If you want to grow raspberries, you can’t just go buy any raspberry plant,” Karen said. “That’s what I wanted to do is buy the virus free plants, so we got good stock”

At this stage, the Gehrigs’ care plan for the raspberries is to weed as much as they can. When the plant is a baby, leaves have a tendency to take over, with the weeds highly visible. Once the raspberry bush is established, weeds are not as much of a detriment because they shade out the weeds in the soil.

“They need an inch of water a week and if they don’t get it by rainfall, you need to provide it,” Karen said. She hopes to install a drip irrigation system soon for more efficient watering.

Next year, she wants to install a high tunnel, which will allow her to grow fresh produce not normally grown in North Dakota. Unlike a consistently heated greenhouse, a high tunnel has sides that the user can roll up and down, providing to growers a longer season.

In the next few years, the Gehrigs expect a crop from the four Honey Crisp, four Snow Sweet and two Zestar apple trees recently planted. Similar to the raspberries, the apple selection will be available for the public to pick.

The Red Barn and Berry Farm was just awarded $10,500 from the state Agricultural Products Utilization Commission for marketing, but the Gehrigs are still searching for money for their red barn renovations.

They’d love to not only use “the berry shack” as a place for special occasions, but also as a country store with jams, jellies, syrups and fresh produce directly from their farm.

“We have big plans for that — big dreams,” Karen Gehrig said.

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