After 40 years of milking cows, Greg and Irma Zwald of River Falls pulled the plug on the dairy partnership they shared with Greg’s brother, Bob. But instead of easing into retirement or heading south, the couple launched a new, diversified venture — White Pine Berry Farm.
“In 2012, we bought an older farmstead only 4 miles away. Our idea was to build a mainly U-pick organic strawberry operation from scratch and sell produce directly to the consumer,” Greg says. “Cash flow and spreading the word about the business were the biggest challenges. It has taken plenty of patience and extra hard work to reap the rewards of this investment.”
Strawberries are raised on three different sites that cover 5 acres. They are planted in late April or early May and rotated every four years with alfalfa, sweet corn and usually pumpkins. Plants are set 14 inches apart in 32-inch rows. There are 10,000 to 12,000 feet of drip irrigation lines, installed 4 inches deep, which help young plants handle stress at blooming time. To encourage growth and more runners, blossoms are either pinched or cut with a scissors six weeks after planting. Since weeds pose a major challenge, crews must hand-pull them all summer.
“Family members have made the commitment and spend time to help boost the farm’s bottom line.” Greg says. Irma, a native of El Salvador, handles all the bookkeeping chores, while daughter Tanya helps with the corn maze. Another daughter, Stephanie Wipf, updates the website, and son Andrew and his wife, Kim, monitor the Facebook page, Greg explains. “We strive to create a park-like atmosphere. In late June, 350 folks fill the farmyard for our strawberry shortcake festival.”
The Zwalds offer a lot of other produce besides strawberries. For more information, go to whitepineberryfarm.com, or call 715-222-2946. Also check out the slideshow below to see scenes from White Pine Berry Farm.
Persinger lives in Milwaukee.