I am a high school agriculture teacher by trade. I have been very blessed to have taught 27 years at Palmer High School in Palmer, Alaska.
I have been a wanna-be farmer since I was eight years old. Back then, my dear old dad snuck a huge watermelon into my otherwise lacking watermelon patch, convinced me I grew it and hooked me on farming ever since.
My good neighbors, Al and Gloria Okeson let me plant 50 "Rovella" Red currents in their field.
In 2009, I propagated and planted one hundred "Holland Long Bunch" Red currents in the Okeson field and harvested the first handful of "Rovella" currants. Rovella is a surprisingly sweet berry with all the spunky currant flavor.
Ben VanderWeele let me trade labor and strawberries for the use of some strawberry ground in 2010. Working with the VanderWeeles is like going back to college; I honestly love every minute of it. I probably looked like a kid getting to drive a tractor for the first time. I scaled back on strawberries, planting only 4,000 plants but I added 500 pumpkin plants. Another cool, wet summer yielded a poor crop of strawberries. For reasons I can’t explain, I got tons of pumpkins. "Racer" produced large 10-30 pound jack-o-lantern type fruit and "Baby bear" produced a 1-2 pound pie type pumpkins; both were a big hit at the South Anchorage Farmers Market.
2010 Marked the year I really concentrated on making jellies and jams. I also managed seven bee hives, but the cool summer did not help produce much honey… Maybe 90 pounds total. However, I would have never guessed the response to my jellies would be so great. I am still completely flattered and humbled that people enjoy my berry products. I would like to say I have a cache of old secret family recipes but I don’t. I just follow the recipes in the Certo Pectin box. It is the ultimate proof that Alaska’s fruits and vegetables really are superior. Our long days and cool air temperatures work to make amazing fruits and vegetables. It is very cold outside as I’m writing this around -10 degrees. Knowing those cold temperatures are killing harmful bugs and pathogens makes it a little easier to suffer through the cold. My new seed catalogs help too! I have not had to spray pesticides on any of my berries yet. I can pick fruit and eat it right from the plants.. I love that!
I admit I’m obsessive about quality. I make just one batch of jelly or jam at a time, like you would in your home. I was told this is the definition of "Gourmet." If I can get strawberries from the field into jams the same day... It tastes like juicy, fresh-picked strawberries in the jar, and we get to pick the perfectly ripe fruit. I have never tired of the flavor of fresh strawberries and have eaten one or two pounds during a morning harvest!
My plans for 2012 are to expand my strawberry planting to include hardy June –bearing types. I recently purchased ten new beehives, bringing the total to 17. A neighbor is letting me use more land, I would like to plant "Evans" and "Carmine Jewel" Cherry trees, "Latham" raspberries, "Titanium" Black currants, and a new fruit called Haskaps, which is reported to have flavor similar to that of a raspberry mixed with blueberries. My hope is that someday you can stop for a visit and sit among the trees and bushes... Maybe have a picnic.
Thank you for buying the fruits of my labor, I hope they bring a smile to your face. I hope both your first and last tastes "wow" you and make you look forward to waking up each morning… okay maybe that’s stretching it! ;)
Don Berberich – owner, planter, picker, and head jelly maker: Juice Jelly and Jam.
It's hard to believe five years have rolled by. Its hard to believe too how the berries have grown and all the things I've learned about farming. Probably the most important thing I have learned is how hard farmers work! I will never take my food for granted. It is hard work but I still like it. It's theraputic nurturing plants and very satisfying knowing one is producing high quality clean food.
I have also learned to apperciate good neighbors. Without the Okesons and VanderWeeles this little dream to farm would have never even had a chance. I appreciate their patience and all the knowledge they have imparted to me.
Of course it wouldn't have been possible without my very understanding family who have helped out and pitched in all along the way.
Finally thanks to all my customers. Your kind words and suggestions really keep me going when things get tough.
This what the "Patch" looks like after 5 years... over 200 red currant bushes, 10 black currants, 100 rhubarb plants,50 saskatoon berries, 30 honey or haskap berries, 20 cherry bushes, and two apple trees. This year i will be adding more apples, black currants and Boyne red raspberries.
If you are interested in a really cool farm tour that includes my operation, check out Alaska Farm Tours www.alaskafarmtours.comwww.alaskafarmtours.com
I think you will really enjoy it and learn a lot about farming in the Matanuska Valley.
12255 E Outer Springer Loop Rd
Palmer, Alaska 99645