Stuart Lavalier spoke to us this week from the strawberry patch at his u-pick business--Lavalier's Berry Patch and Orchard in Grand Rapids. It was June 27th, the morning of the first day of the 2018 strawberry season. When he picked up the phone, helpers were picking boxes of berries for customers who prefer to buy their berries ready-picked. The birds were singing. Anticipation was in the air.
Stuart's been in the business a long time. He said that when he was growing up the strawberry plants in his parents' garden were misshapen and seedy. "I grew up having a big garden and strawberry plants. The funny thing was, I took classes at the University of Minnesota and I needed an elective. My advisor said, 'You should take horticulture,' and I said, 'Okay, sign me up!' And after I walked out of his room I said, 'What is horticulture?'
"I took the class and there was an instructor...he was just an amazing guy. He could get you excited about anything! After taking his classes and learning how to grow things I told my parents, I said, 'Hey, I think I can fix that strawberry problem!' That got me excited in trying to do things like growing a patch like this one here. So this is something that right out of college I thought, 'Okay, this is something I want to do.
"I was a lot younger back then, but it's surprising. The years go by and I look in the mirror and I see this guy and I go, 'Whoa, who is that?' But I still enjoy it. I still enjoy it a lot!"
Strawberry season lasts about 3 weeks. Stuart expects the blueberries will follow in just about exactly one month. Then tart cherries and, later, apples.
If you're thinking of picking at Lavalier's, call the strawberry hotline for hours: 218/327-9199 or check their Facebook page. His interview, below, covers berry cultuvation, varieties, and lots of information about his farm. Be sure to give it a listen!