The berry end: Owners of Finke’s Berry Farm retiring
CARLTON, M.N. -- The elderly couple were on their knees, each with a plastic bucket nearly full of big, red, ripe, almost-irresistible strawberries. They worked slowly but steadily on one row of a field at Finke's Berry Farm, at the corner of Car...
CARLTON, M.N. - The elderly couple were on their knees, each with a plastic bucket nearly full of big, red, ripe, almost-irresistible strawberries.
They worked slowly but steadily on one row of a field at Finke's Berry Farm, at the corner of Carlton County Roads 4 and 5.
"A lot of people here today," commented Rol Bromberg, 84, the longtime Cloquet High School football coach for whom the school's football field is named. They've been coming here for years, said his wife Ilene Bromberg, who was wearing a baseball cap with "Cancun, Mexico" on it. ("Mine's a secret," she said when asked her age.)
Picking strawberries at the farm is worth the effort, said the couple, who live in Cloquet.
"They're delicious," Ilene said. "I pack them up and freeze them, and we eat them all winter long."
But the Brombergs know that strawberry picking will be different for them after this summer. It's the 32nd season that Doug and Diane Finke have operated their berry farm.
It's also their last.
"I know, and what are we going to do?" Ilene commented.
"We're sorry to hear about that," Rol added.
In a telephone interview last week, in the midst of preparing for Monday's opening day, Diane Finke said the couple had decided the time was right. He's 67; she's 65. The work is physically demanding, and it's a "full-time thing" from April until mid-November.
"The stress kind of builds up after awhile," she said. "And we'd kind of like to maybe do some other things."
The Finkes will stay on the 80-acre farm they originally acquired for their berry farm, Diane said. But they've sold 40 acres across the road that they obtained in the late 1990s to their neighbors, Steve Schulstrom and Rita Vavrosky, who will raise and sell strawberries under the name Spectrum Farms Strawberries.
"We are going to change as little as possible because Diane and Doug have the best strawberries I've ever had," Schulstrom said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The couple and their children moved to Carlton from the Twin Cities about 20 years ago, Schulstrom said. Vavrosky met Diane Finke within a week after they moved when she went out to the farm, four little girls in tow, after asking people where to go to pick strawberries.
They moved to the country 15 years later and now are certified organic farmers producing hay, maple syrup, maple candy and popping corn.
So there still will be strawberries to pick, Schulstrom said, but not necessarily next summer. He faces a learning curve, and he wants to make sure maintains the quality the berry farm has been known for.
The ability to have berries for picking next year depends on variables still playing out, he said. "We don't know how the season's going to end and we don't know what the berries are going to look like and we don't know what the plantings are going to look like that we already have," Schulstrom said.
In the meantime, customers still have 19 days, give or take, to harvest from this year's crop. (The farm also produces a smaller crop of blueberries, which comes a bit later.) The person making sure they have buckets with which to gather the berries might be 80-year-old Pat Gardner, who lives between Moose Lake and Sturgeon Lake and has worked at the farm for 30 years.
"I enjoy it very much," said Gardner, who spent 25 years as head cook at Wrenshall School. "It's going to be a sad day for me" when the season ends.
The berry farm has about 25 seasonal employees, Diane Finke said. Among them is 18-year-old Timothy Vogt, who just graduated from Barnum High School and followed several older siblings into summer work for the Finkes.
"I love working here; it's so much fun," Vogt said.
A few rows down from the Brombergs, 22-month-old Lena Sivertson was holding a big strawberry as her mom, Krista Sivertson, filled her bucket with more berries. The Duluth mom and daughter had made their annual trip to the farm with Heather Rappana and 10-year-old niece Lucy Rappana, also from Duluth.
They seek out the Finkes' berries because of "how fresh they are," Sivertson said. "They aren't treated with any chemicals, and it's really easy picking. They're really nice people. We get tons of berries every year."
She was devastated to learn that the Finkes were retiring, Sivertson said.
"I don't know where we'll go," she said. "That's awful."
Thinking about the Finkes retiring is sad for him, too, Vogt said.
"They did sell to that other farm; they'll still have strawberries," he said. "But it won't be quite the same without Doug and Diane."
If you go
Finke's Berry Farm is located at 2331 County Road 4, near Carlton. To get there from Duluth, travel south on Interstate 35 and take the Mahtowa exit. Turn left and drive two miles to a stop sign. Turn left and drive one mile, then turn right. You'll see the farm ahead of you.
During the picking season, regular hours are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then 5 p.m. until dark, Diane Finke said. But for up-to-date information, check the Finke's Berry Farm page on Facebook or call them at (218) 384-4432.