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Berry picking: A sweet way to spend a summer morning

Sam Benshoof/FOCUS Strawberry picking at Moll's Berry Farm south of Ottertail is a popular summer activity for both locals and visitors.

It's early July in Lakes Country, and that means one thing: fresh berries.

Moll's Berry Farm, several miles south of Ottertail, is a perfect destination for someone looking to get some berries for jam, pie, sundaes or anything else.

The farm is owned and run by Robert Moll and his son, David.

According to David, the strawberry season started a week late this year because of the cool and wet spring.

"We usually start around June 20," David said, "but this year we started on June 27."

Strawberries could still be available for picking through the middle of this week, though the berries that are left are much smaller than what visitors during the first week of the season may have found.

Strawberries, Robert said, always start out large. As the crop gets picked off, the berries get progressively smaller.

Or, pickers might find that many of the berries left are overripe. This, David said, was due to the very hot Fourth of July weekend.

"Ideal weather for berries is around 70 degrees," he said.

If you haven't had a chance to make it out yet, don't despair - raspberry season is right around the corner.

David said raspberries will probably be ready for picking around July 18, and the season should go for about two and a half weeks.

On Friday morning, Denise Kuhns, from Greenfield, Iowa, and her daughters Mallory and Macy were hard at work sifting through the strawberry plants and filling their pails with berries. Denise said they go strawberry picking every year when they come to Ottertail to stay at a lake resort.

"The kids always have a contest to see who can pick the most berries," Denise said. "Then we take the berries home and make jam or smoothies. Or I might make strawberry daiquiris."

Mallory and Macy said picking strawberries is always hard work, but they enjoy the fruits of their labor at the end of the day.

A few rows over, Sue Rosenow and Hedy Moe, both from Henning, paused in the heat to see how much of their bucket they had filled. Moe and Rosenow said they've been picking berries on the farm for 10 years now.

The strawberries are the big draw, they said, but sometimes they'll come back for the raspberries.

Both retired, the two said they were looking forward to making pie, using the berries in ice cream or freezing them. Friday was Rosenow's second trip this summer and Moe's third.

A family business

Robert said that when the farm started back in 1958, the berries were all pre-picked and sold in quarts.

In the early 60s, the demand for berries rose, and the Moll family hired local kids to help pick berries during the summer. It wasn't until the late 60s that the family started the 'pick your own' tradition that makes berry picking a popular summer activity.

In 1987, after teaching graphic arts and photography in Fergus Falls, Robert moved back and took over the farm when his father passed away. Robert and David now run the farm together.

"It's a two-man operation," David said.

So far, Robert said, the strawberry season has "probably been one of our better years."

The strawberries are always a bigger draw than the raspberries, he said, although there aren't as many places in the area where people can pick raspberries.

The farm gets many local visitors during berry season, but many out-of-state summer visitors have also made it a habit to stop by for berry picking. People have come from as far away as California and Alaska.

"A lot of different state license plates come through here," he said.

Though at the time of publication there will be few strawberries left, Moll's Berry Farm charges $8.50 per pail. Raspberries cost $4.50 per pound to pick, or $5 per pint or $3 per half pint pre-picked.

At the end of the season, Robert and David will go through and mow the plants, spread fertilizer and weed and insect control and cover the plants with straw. Then, when the frost lets up in the spring and the soil gets warm enough, they'll get ready for another season.

Living on the farm, Robert said that he and David eat their share of berries.

"We sometimes don't eat as much as we'd like," he said. "But we don't get tired of them."

"You can't buy strawberries at the store after tasting ours," David added.

The farm is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and evenings by appointment. The farm is located at 29098 on Hwy 78 south of Ottertail. Call 218-367-2656 for more information.