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So berry close

Heat brings early berries, picking begins

With the heat wave in late May and early June, berry picking season is arriving early in Carlton County.

Strawberry farmer Steve Schulstrom held out a perfect, bright red strawberry Monday morning, but partly green strawberries were still in the majority at Spectrum Farms. Still, he expected to open for picking later that week, a full week ahead of the early July estimate they made earlier in the month.

"This year it got hot early on. Essentially, the plants woke up from sleeping and it was already hot so they just shot up," Schulstrom said.

Formerly known as Finke's Berry Farm in Carlton, Spectrum is located between I-35 and Hay Lake. It's a few miles from the nearest highway, so best to call the berry hotline at 218-389-6265 to make sure the fields are open before making the trip.

In an interview Monday, Schulstrom said it can be challenging to tell when the strawberries will be ready.

"You have to visualize what you have out there, because at first it doesn't look like much, but when you walk through the fields you can see they are ripening," he said.

If you want the perfect strawberry, make sure it is red all the way around, he advised. It can be tricky, so make sure you are thorough when picking. Leave the ones with lighter spots for the next day's pickers.

"We have no idea how many people are going to come so we have to be ready and have enough for them to pick," Schulstrom said.

Schulstrom had a few friends come pick on Wednesday, the day before Spectrum officially opened. One of those was James Hille, a recent high school (home schooled) graduate, who had worked for Schulstrom in the past. Hille picked an entire flat of strawberries in about 20 minutes.

When asked how he liked to eat strawberries, Hille didn't hesitate. "Just straight up eat them," he said, popping a bright red strawberry in his mouth.

"They melt in your mouth; they're pure delight," said Betsy Dugan, who admits to tasting the berries occasionally while she picks.

Jane Fisher-Merritt said she loves to make a strawberry-rhubarb puff from an old Betty Crocker recipe she has, or sorbet.

All kinds of berries are coming early, although strawberries are at the front of the line. Here's what we heard from other local farms:

Farm LoLa, located in Wrenshall, says their famous honeyberries will be ripe by the end of June. Honeyberries are the perfect berry to grow in Minnesota, as they are accustomed to cold weather. According to their berry hotline, they have more fruit than last year and look forward to having customers out in the field. The berry hotline gets updated occasionally, so the farm encourages people to call 218-203-5995. Bring your own bucket and they will weigh it before you pick so you pay for only the fruit; or, buy one of their flats for 50 cents. They accept cash, check, Venmo, and sometimes PayPal. For more information on the farm visit their website: farmlola.com

Uff-Da Organics, also located in Wrenshall, will be opening the first week of July and picking is by appointment only. They grow strawberries, baby greens and garlic. They have a signup sheet for strawberry picking and it will be published once farmers know when the strawberries are ripe enough to pick. Strawberries cost $2.50 a pound. Bring your own containers, or use one of their cardboard flats, free of charge. A flat holds about 10-12 pounds.

Leaning Barn Farm will be open mid-July or early August, according to owner Ann Gustafson. The Gustafsons are in the eighth year of bringing berries to maturity, having been open to the public the past five years. Leaning Barn has pick-your-own blueberries and raspberries. Bring your own container for picking. They also grow shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and honey. They don't use chemicals on their produce and everything is hand picked. The farm is located two miles off of I-35 in Esko.

Blackbirds & Blueberries and Chub Lake Blueberries will both be open for picking at the end of July or early August. Both farms encourage watching their social media pages for updates on the berries. Blackbirds & Blueberries is located in Cloquet and owned by Lori and Tim Eaton, and Chub Lake Blueberries is owned by Brenda Knudsen and located in Carlton near Chub Lake.

**** BONUS RECIPE ****

Here is a great recipe from Steve Schulstrom and Rita Vavrosky. It’s been a July tradition in their family for nearly 20 years. Rita says to be sure to look at a sample flag to make sure the stars and stripes are placed just right — and you know where to look for the strawberries!

Strawberry Flag Dessert


20 double graham crackers, crushed

⅔ cup sugar

½ cup melted butter


16 oz. cream cheese

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. Vanilla

Red sauce:

4 cups strawberries, cooked with

½ cup sugar and

¼ cup cornstarch, and cooled

Blue sauce:

1 cup blueberries, cooked with

¼ cup sugar and

2 Tbsp cornstarch, and cooled

Whipped cream:

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped with

1 Tbsp. sugar and

1 tsp. vanilla, placed into pastry bag or plastic bag with a corner cut off

Mix the crust ingredients together in the bottom of a 9” x13” pan. Pat into an even layer.

Mix the filling ingredients together and spread over the crust.

Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes. Cool.

Spread the sauces over the filling, with the blue in one corner.

Pipe the whipped cream into 6 stripes across the red and 50 stars on the field of blue.