Right now, Berry Patch Farm south of Nevada looks a bit cold and gray in the ice and snow of February.
But in a few months, like it has for nearly 50 years, it will explode with a rainbow of color as thousands of berry bushes and fruit trees ripen for the summer.
The farm, run by Dean and Judy Henry and their son, Mike, produces a long list of produce throughout the summer and fall, including rhubarb, red, black and gold raspberries, apples, currants, pumpkins and gooseberries. According to Judy, the farm is also the only one in the state that grows blueberries.
Visitors to the farm are invited to pick their own produce, buy baskets of fresh fruit from the “Country Store” or choose from fresh and frozen pies, freshly baked muffins or canned goods made by Judy.
“On a good weekend people will be waiting in line for the pies to come out of the oven,” Judy said.
Decades of dedication to the land by the Henry family has not gone unnoticed. The farm was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association at the Iowa Specialty Producers Awards Banquet on Jan. 23.
This is the first year the association’s Board of Directors has presented the award. According to Kendra Meyer, executive secretary for the association, the board wanted to recognize individuals or farms that had been active in the association’s leadership and in supporting the organization over many years.
“They really just wanted to honor some of those people who have helped the association over the years so this year they decided to start those lifetime achievement awards to honor them,” Meyer said. “(The Henrys) were an easy nomination for the board to select.”
Dean and Judy said they have been members of the association almost since the beginning of the farm, and have been active in helping other fruit producers in the state start and develop their own operations.
When asked what she thought earned them the lifetime award, Judy laughed.
“Our age!” she said.
While it’s true the couple have lived a full life into their 80s, Dean said the consistency they maintained in their product over many years is what makes an award-winning fruit farm.
Berry Patch Farm was started in the early 70s, when Dean and Judy moved their family to the property from Ames. According to Dean, the first apple trees were planted before their house was built.
Since then, the farm has tried to stay up to date on conservation and sustainable practices in fruit production. While Dean said they don’t claim an organic label, some of the crops are grown using organic practices.
While any farmer is often at the mercy of the weather, Dean said running the berry farm comes with increased risks because of the delicate fruits that are grown.
“In horticulture, complete failure is always possible due to weather,” he said.
Consistently producing good crops of fruit and berries is difficult. Dean said many growers in Iowa are only in the business for two to five years before deciding to quit, and some of them choose to bypass high-maintenance crops like strawberries.
Like many farmers, the challenge of growing multiple fruits in multiple varieties doesn’t deter the Henrys from continuing with their operation. For Dean and Judy, the experience of providing fresh fruit to their customers is the reward that makes up for months of hard work.
“I think it’s very fulfilling,” Judy said. “Some people say ‘this is our tradition (to visit the farm).’”
One family from Minnesota, which Judy said has come to the farm every summer since the teenage children were very young, gifted the Henrys with a book titled “Strawberry Blessings,” full of photos from their visits and a hand-drawn story about growing strawberries.
While working the farm in the winter months mostly consists of pruning the many trees and bushes and protecting them from the cold, the farm’s first crops of the year will begin to show up in May, when the rhubarb is ready, with strawberries becoming available in the first few weeks of June.