In Her Boots Workshop

Perennial Fruit from Field to Plate

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 


Blue Fruit Farm
Winona, Minn.


Farmer Joyce Ford welcomed participants to her family’s farm outside Winona, a five-acre certified organic perennial fruit farm where she and her husband, Jim Riddle, raise a variety of berries and plums for wholesale market and direct-from-the-farm retail, including blueberries, elderberries, aronia berries, black currants, plums, honeyberries, and juneberries. This In Her Boots session took place during peak harvest time, and attendees were able to experience the organic berry growing process, from field to plate.


In Her Boots at Blue Fruit Farm:  Seven pieces of wisdom from the field
By Etienne White, Bailey Webster, Sue Wiegrefe, and Lisa Kivirist


We learned so much during our August 9 In Her Boots session at Blue Fruit Farm that we needed four women farmers to capture this write up!  A big thank you to Joyce Ford and her husband, Jim Riddle, for this educational and inspiring day.


Seven things we learned:

  1. It’s all about pollinators

When we think of “pollinators,” we usually think “honey bees.”  However, Jim and Joyce have not had much luck with pollination from honey bees. Instead they see great results from bumblebees, and they’ve tracked more than five different bumble bee species in their fruit field.  Flies are also great pollinators, too! Who knew?

Lesson learned:  The obvious answer is not always the right one. In nature, as in life, and in farming, there are always multiple possible solutions to a problem.

Pollinators are of paramount importance in fruit crops. Each flower must be pollinated in order to produce fruit. Having habitat available for pollinators helps to sustain them through the season, even when none of the fruit crops are flowering. Joyce and Jim had lots of pollinator habitat, including anise hyssop, butterfly weed, and mint.


  1. Power tools rock

Power tools can be intimidating sometimes for female farmers.  As we were chatting amongst ourselves during a demonstration of some Stihl battery powered tools and there was a consensus that we want to learn how to use them but are still somehow reticent. The whole group was leaning-in though to see and try out the battery powered chainsaw and weed whacker. They were light, easy to handle, so quiet compared to their conventional gas-powered cousins, and of course did not emit smells or smoke or anything noxious. We all left wanting to know more – perhaps power tools could be the topic of another ‘in her boots’ workshop next year?


  1. Think integrated pest management

It’s really important to take an integrated and consistent approach to pest management. One technique particularly interesting was planting garlic around the bases of the plum trees, and using garlic spray to control Plum Cucurlio. Jim and Joyce plan to leave the garlic bulbs in the ground, which will again next year. Eventually they will have a “carpet of garlic” protecting the trees! (And warding off vampires, or course.)


  1. Perfection is not the goal

Even though the field looked perfect, the packing shed, the neat rows the trimmed grass; everything looked perfect, Joyce told us “It’s okay to fail.”  Let’s say that again shall we. Failing is A-Okay! Joyce took us through her berry field and told us of failure after failure, everything from species variants failing to entire rows of bushes being lost. “Its ok to fail”, she said, “plenty of other berry farmers do too!” What also happens is that you learn and you adjust and you do better next time. You fail forward. Perfection suddenly seemed much less exciting than failing forward.


  1. Learn from other women

Lunch was set up like a speed-dating event, with different representative from various organizations and resources spending a brief amount of time with each table, explaining their organizations role and ways they can help female farmers.   We learned a lot of new information in a small group setting, such as hearing about research being conducted with UW Madison that is proving out that children who grow up on livestock farms have greater immune strength than those who don’t. We also found out ways to access grants and loans many of us had not heard of before.  There are always new people to meet, ways to expand your network and increase your knowledge. Speed-dating over lunch was a great way to take in a lot of information and allow everyone to make personalized follow ups that pertain to their own farm needs.


  1. Harvest quickly

Being able to harvest quickly is essential. Harvest rates for different berries vary quite a lot – Joyce said she can harvest 8-10 lb./hour of Aronia berries, but only 2 lb./hour of Honeyberries. Motivating employees to pick fast can mean the difference between making money or not. Joyce is considering using monetary bonuses for employees who harvest the fastest. Currently she pays her employees hourly, so the slowest pickers make the same amount as the fastest, which doesn’t motivate them to get faster!



  1. Celebrate with “Pice-cream”

We finished the day with fruit cobbler and ice cream and the children delighted in calling it ‘pice-cream’ (conjoining the word ‘pie’ with ‘ice-cream’).  In some ways, this was the best part, not just because of the sticky fruit desert (which was of course delicious), but because the formal workshop was technically over, and everyone started chatting more freely, debating, laughing and enjoying the comradery of so many smart and strong female farmers all gathered in one place.

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