Hooray! Summer is here. A customer and staff favorite each July are The Berry Bucket blueberries. These outstandingly delicious berries are grown by the Olson family just west of Readstown, Wisconsin. The story of this unique farm begins over 16 years ago.
In December of 2001, Bill and Sarah Olson purchased 15.5 acres from Pete and Verna Jacobson. The land was beautiful. It had a large area of red pines and hardwood trees and a half-built log home. Over the next 10 years, many things changed on the farm. Bill and Sarah finished the log house (2002), the couple had their twin daughters, Ilise and Braelyn (2008), and a large section of the red pines were damaged by two big thunderstorms.
Eventually the Olsons decided to remove an acre of red pines on the north side of their property. Since the soil where the red pines grew had become more acidic over time, they thought that they might be able to plant blueberries, which thrive in acidic soil. After the laborious work of removing sticks and stumps, plowing the ground, and preparing rows, the Olson’s began planting 220 baby blueberry plants on June 1, 2011. The Berry Bucket was born!
The Olsons sold their first berries to Viroqua Food Co+op in early July 2013. Since then, the berries have become a customer favorite. They also sell to the Driftless Cafe and the Rooted Spoon. Their goal is to provide the most nutritious and best quality hand-picked berries in the Driftless region by delivering the fresh berries either the same or next day after picking.
Bill and Sarah consider their now 9-year-old twins, Ilise and Braelyn, to be just as much a part of the business as themselves. The girls help with watering and picking. Ilise and Braelyn have a dream of expanding to the point where they can have a You-Pick berry farm.
The Berry Bucket name was created from the various size buckets the Olsons use in the process of growing blueberries. When they pick the blueberries they use small buckets to pick into and larger buckets as chairs. Each blueberry plant needs about an inch of water every week during the growing season. If adequate rainfall is not achieved, the “Bucket Brigade” is formed to water the plants.
Today, the Berry Bucket continues to grow. They currently grow seven different varieties (324 plants) of high bush blueberries on the farm, which helps them extend the season from July through August. They also grow raspberries, blackberries, hardy kiwis, mulberries, cherries, plums and pears, but blueberries are their main crop.
Next time you see a pint of The Berry Bucket blueberries in the produce section at VFC, pick up one or two and know that you are supporting the Olson family and their unique berry farm with each purchase, which helps build our local farm economy!
We also had a chance to talk with Braelyn and Ilise Olson to ask them some questions about what being part of The Berry Bucket is like!
What is the your favorite part of growing blueberries?
Ilise & Braelyn: Eating while you pick!
What is the hardest part or most time-consuming part of growing blueberries?
Braelyn: Watering each blueberry plant with a bucket of water.
Ilise: Hand picking the berries.
What is your favorite blueberry variety?
Ilise & B raelyn: Chandlers! They are easy to pick and they are the size of quarters. They ripen toward the end of July. You will see them in our berry pints then.
What growing tips do you have for people that would like to plant a blueberry plant or two in their home garden?
Braelyn: Fences and nets are a must to keep bunnies, deer and birds from eating the plants and berries.
Ilise: Beware of spotted winged fruit flies. They make the berries mushy and yucky!
What are your favorite ways to eat blueberries?
- Warm, fresh right off the plant!
- Chocolate covered! (Chandler variety works best) Skewer blueberry with a toothpick and dip into melted chocolate.
- Eat them right out of the pint!