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Pick 'em while you can

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Diane Finke, owner of Finke’s Berry Farm, holds some of red ripe strawberries fresh from the farm.The Finkes decided this will be their last year and will now retire. Tyler Northey/Pine Journal2 / 4
Customers pick berries at Finke's Berry Farm this week. Tyler Northey/Pine Journal3 / 4
Courtney Gregor, a longtime summer employee at Finke’s, helps place strawberries from pail to box. Tyler Northey/Pine Journal4 / 4

After 32 years of offering strawberry picking at Finke's Berry Farm, Doug and Diane Finke decided this would be their last year.

Located at the corner of County Roads 4 and 5 near Carlton, Finke's Berry Farm has been a favorite spot to pick strawberries for more than three decades. Each July, 10 acres of strawberry plants are ready for picking with no pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides. The berry season only last for about three weeks.

Most tend to pick with their family, like Linda Kuhlman. The Kettle River/Moose Lake area resident was out picking with her two daughters Thursday.

"It's a nice family time — we always connect," Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman has been coming out to Finke's for 10-15 years with her daughters and said they enjoy every minute of it.

"We talk about all the memories from when we were out here," Kuhlman said, laughing with her daughter. "We were out here one time for about five minutes and it started to lightning."

Like Kuhlman, Jennifer Tate was out with her daughter Thursday. Tate has been picking strawberries since she was 6 years old and also enjoys the quality family time while picking.

Myron Maki from Cloquet enjoys the eating part over the picking. He was on his second pick of this year with his son last week. Maki and his family had already picked nine buckets and he was hoping to get another eight or nine that day.

Maki and his family put the berries to good use.

"We make jam and strawberry ice cream; we freeze them, put them in smoothies, strawberry shortcake, anything strawberry," Maki said.

Mary Slattery from Cloquet said she's been coming to Finke's to pick for many years. Slattery was out picking with her granddaughter Madalyn Trone. Slattery was sad when she found out the Finkes were retiring, but also knew that everyone retires.

In an interview with the Duluth News Tribune earlier this month, Diane Finke said the couple had decided the time was right. He's 67 and she's 65.

"The stress kind of builds up after awhile," she said. "And we'd kind of like to maybe do some other things."

The berry farm is hard and demanding work for the couple. It's a full-time job from April until mid-November. The heavy lifting is hard on Doug and he is "not one to go half way," said Diane.

Of course, not all the work is done by the Finkes. The berry farm hires about 25 seasonal employees comprised primarily of local high school and college students.

One of the student employees, Courtney Gregory, has been working at Finke's for about 12 years and loves being able to work outside. Gregory lives down the road from the berry farm and remembers biking to and from work when she was younger.

"It's kinda sad," said Gregory when asked about Finkes' retirement. "I have grown up next door and they are good family friends."

But there will be strawberries to be picked in the future, although maybe not next year.

Finke's sold 40 acres of their land across the road to neighbors Steve Schulstrom and Rita Vavrosky. The couple will raise and sell strawberries under the name Spectrum Farms Strawberries. Schulstrom and Vavrosky are already certified organic farmers producing hay, maple syrup, maple candy and popping corn.

Diane said they will help Steve and Rita "learn the the ropes" as they start up their berry farm, where pickers will be able to pick their own strawberries. The berries will also have no chemicals to help them grow.

As for the Finkes, they will stay on their 80 acres — or "home side" as the Finkes call it — where people come to pick this year.

There is still some time to head out Finke's Berry Farm at 2331 County Road 4, near Carlton. To get there from Cloquet, travel south on Interstate 35 and take the Mahtowa exit. Turn left and drive two miles to a stop sign. Turn left and drive one mile, then turn right. You'll see the farm ahead of you. During the picking season, regular hours are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. until dark. For the most up-to-date information, check the Finke's Berry Farm page on Facebook or call them at 218-384-4432.

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