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Berry, berry good: Minnesota crop 'best in years'

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In shortcakes, cobblers, jams, or plucked and eaten straight from the carton, it's turning into a very good year for Mother Nature's candy.

The Associated Press reports that Minnesota berry farms are seeing the best strawberry, blueberry and raspberry crops in years. Right now, the raspberry and blueberry crops are peaking in southern and central Minnesota. Meanwhile, the strawberry season is just getting going in the northern region of the state.

It means the pickings are plentiful for those who like to visit farms to fill their own cartons and buckets. Less industrious berry-lovers can look to farmers markets for the fresh local bounty. An interactive map on the Minnesota Grown website can help pickers and berry-lovers find a pick-your-own berry farm. The Wisconsin Berry Grower's Association also operates a website with updated information on picking farms.

While the cold, wet spring delayed the growing season, but the Minnesota Grown program says a variety of berries are now ready to be picked and enjoyed throughout the state.

At Stillwater's Blueberry Fields, Beth O'Connor tells Minnesota Grown she's seeing above-average levels of early production and expects a great year for blueberries. West of the Twin Cities in Greenfield, Gabe Knapton at Knapton's Raspberries says his farm may have its best looking raspberry crop in three years.

Minnesota Grown adds that northern Minnesota strawberry growers also expect an exceptional harvest. The Northlands News Center reports that the berry crop up north is ripening about a week later than usual because of the brutally cold winter and the late spring that followed it.

"It took a longer time for the plants to develop and also for the blooming period, it's extended and also the ripening period was extended," said Arnold Johnson, owner of Johnson's Berry Patch in Iron River, Wisconsin.

The family farm has its first crop in its strawberry patch in 1952, with 13,000 plants bearing berries for customers who come to pick them.

"They do enjoy picking, they enjoy being here, and we love having them," said farm co-owner Gloria Johnson.

Many of the picking farms do not take checks or credit cards, so plan ahead.

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