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Couples create unusual strawberry farm in Iowa

EAGLE GROVE, Iowa (AP)–The strawberries at Backyard Berries in Eagle Grove aren’t planted on the ground like one might expect. These strawberries are planted in bags and are suspended 4 feet into the air. They are easier to work with,” said Jake Wilde, a 2014 Eagle Grove High School graduate. Wilde is among a group of four couples who invested in the operation together.

The group includes Wilde and Madi Walker, of Eagle Grove; Clark and Lindsay Morgan, of Eagle Grove; Josh and Yalonda Amonson, of Woolstock; and Jake and Emily Van Diest, of Webster City. “We are friends and family,” said Wilde, who holds a greenhouse management degree from Iowa State University. The Fort Dodge Messenger reports the field is located east of Central Iowa Dirt and Demo machine sheds at 1000 S. Jackson. The property is owned by Josh Amonson. Wilde credits Jake Van Diest for the concept of the field. In October of 2020, the group put a plan together. They contacted a company called IBEX Growing Systems to help with the innovative way of growing the fruit.

On June 11, planting began. “All eight of us got friends and family and members of the community to help us plant,” Wilde said. “We had about 30 people who helped. It took us three days.” He’s grateful for the support. “It took a lot of hands,” Wilde said. “We owe the world to them for doing that. I can’t imagine doing it without the help of family and friends. And it was fun to have everyone here and spending time together.”

Wilde is the grandson of Clarence and Betty Wilde, longtime owners of Eagle Grove Greenhouse. The couple retired in recent years. In all, Wilde said there’s about 12,000 strawberries that should grow. There are 30 rows of them. Every plant has its own irrigation tube. “I water them in the mornings and on hot days they will get a second shot of water,” Wilde said.

With a heat advisory in effect, Wilde said the berries would be getting an extra dose. He said each plant should produce a pound of berries. “We have raspberries and blackberries as well,” Wilde said. “They won’t be ready this year. This year it’s just strawberries.” The berries should be ready to pick by late August.

That’s when Backyard Berries will host its first “you pick” event. “We want to make it a friendly and inviting atmosphere,” Wilde said. “We will have containers you can put your berries in. We will weigh them and sell them by the pound.”

Aug. 28 will mark the first “you pick.” Backyard Berries will then host one every weekend after that during harvest. “We will have fall pumpkins and hay bales,” Wilde said. “We planted sunflowers all the way around the property but they are surrounded by weeds so may not pan out this year.” The picking aspect should be more enjoyable than the traditional method. “It’s unique how they are raised up,” Wilde said. “You don’t pick them up on your hands and knees. It’s exciting and I think we are happy with where the plants are. We are ready for the berries.” Wilde said he likes spending time in the field. “Coming out here and working is almost relaxing,” he said. “We are on the edge of town. You hear nature and it’s kind of relaxing. You see the green and it seems like it goes forever.”

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