The start of a new venture

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hollandale couple transitions from hogs to strawberries

HOLLANDALE — Hollandale couple Melody and Tim Randall have decided to try their hand at strawberry farming this spring.

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“Strawberry growing is branching out a little bit, but my family was involved in strawberry growing when I was growing up,” Melody Randall said Tuesday.

Melberries will be the name of the new strawberry business in Freeborn County.

“These (berries) won’t taste like California berries,” Melody Randall said about her locally-grown produce.

Both transplants to Minnesota, the Randalls grew up in Washington state. The pair came to Minnesota to hog farm.

Tim Randall has been a hog farmer for more than 30 years.

The Randalls said that once the strawberry plants start to flower, berries should be visible and available to harvest within a few weeks. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

The Randalls were looking for a way to supplement their income while utilizing their property. They wanted to start something that they had knowledge of.

It was just last spring that the Randalls got the idea to start a strawberry farm.

Melody Randall has worked part time in the auditor-treasurer’s office at the Freeborn County courthouse on and off for many years. She started working full time at the courthouse this spring.

The Randall family’s hog farm was struck by a tornado in March. Now, instead of being a full-time hog farmer, Tim Randall is transitioning out of pigs and into berries.

With less and less responsibility on the hog farm, Tim Randall has invested many hours into the new strawberry operation.

“(The business) should really be called Tim-berries,” Melody Randall said. “I wasn’t supposed to be working, so we have kind of switched roles.”

It was almost exactly a year ago that the Randalls bought and planted 5,200 strawberry plants over three-quarters of an acre last spring. It took the Randalls a long weekend to get the bulk of plants in the ground.

“I got off on a Friday and I went out there after work and we worked all weekend long and we finished (planting) on Monday afternoon right before the rain came,” Melody Randall said.

The couple did not know if they would have enough product to supply a “you-pick” stand on their farm. Instead, they will take personal orders for their berries and will attend local farmers markets.

People in and around Albert Lea have expressed interest in the business and have spoken with the couple about placing orders.

Tim and Melody Randall said Freeborn County will be a great market for their business because demand is high and supply is low. They have noticed vendors selling strawberries at the local farmers markets running out of berries.

“We are going to stay local as much as we can with it,” Melody Randall said.

The berry plants the Randalls sowed last year are called “June-bearing,” which means they have a shorter window for producing strawberries than everbearing plants that produce all summer. Tim and Melody Randall purchased a variety of June-bearing plants that bloom at different points in the summer to keep their inventory fresh.

Melody and Tim Randall haven’t used any chemicals on their strawberry plants, but said the offside to not using chemicals is that weeds come back more frequently. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

The variety will take them through as long of a period as possible, Melody Randall said.

The couple hopes to produce as much as 5,000 pounds of produce this spring. They are making a plan to sell the fruit at farmers markets, camping grounds and through orders.

According to Melody Randall, when her husband was researching the perfect varieties of strawberry plants to start the operation with, he only purchased plants that produced fruit described as “big” or “extra large.”

The strawberry operation is not certified-organic, but Melody and Tim Randall have not used any sprays on the plants. The team picks the weeds in their large strawberry garden by hand.

The Randalls described their produce as chemical-free. To be certified as an organic farm, an operation must undergo three years of production without chemical use.

The Randalls plan to take their strawberry business one year at a time and make decisions based on how the business is performing.

Weeds have been the biggest struggle that the new strawberry farmers have faced so far.

“We thought there wouldn’t be much for weeds once we tilled everything up, but about three weeks later — lots of weeds,” Melody Randall said.

“When our kids came home to visit, they hand weeded with us,” she said. She also credited her husband with most of the hand weeding.

The Randalls are the parents of Jason, Abby, Silas and Annabelle Randall, all of whom were students at Albert Lea High School.

The Randalls are also experimenting with raspberry plants on their farm in Hollandale.

In preparation for their first year of picking and selling fruit, Tim and Melody Randall drove to Baraboo, Wisconsin, last weekend to buy supplies for distribution.

Neighborhood children in Hollandale will provide hired help for picking the produce.

For more information about Melberries, look for their Facebook page or contact Melody Randall at 507-402-3414.

Growing strawberries is familiar territory for Melody Randall, as her family grew strawberries when she was growing up in Washington state. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

About Evelyn Seffinga

Evelyn Seffinga covers education and arts and culture for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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