Antigo Strawberry Farm Closes After 40 Years
Inside the gates of Merry’s Berries farm, rows of strawberry plants have been picked clean.
Only an occasional overripe fruit peaks through the green leaves.
After 40 years of growing strawberries and hosting pick-your-own sales, the farm’s owners are finally shutting down the operation.
Owner Andy Merry says between weeding 10 acres and covering the plants to prevent freezing, running the farm is a lot of work.
“When we’re farming here, people think it’s a three-week job,” he says. “But it’s really from around April 15 through December 10. It’s kind of a full-time job.”
And he says the job isn’t getting any easier.
“Recently either we’re just in a weather cycle here whenre we get more extreme weather, or it’s climate change. But whatever it is, we start off real warm in April, then you get real cold in May, they you get warm again and cold again. That’s hard to deal with.”
Two other strawberry farms – Mike’s Berries in Wausau and M&M’s Berries in Merrill— also closed recently.
Wisconsin has historically been one of the top ten states for producing strawberries.
But in the past decade, the amount of land dedicated to growing the fruit has gone down by about 30 percent – from more than 1,200 acres in 2007 to about 860 acres in 2017 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Merry says the decline is not representative of demand for fresh strawberries, which is high.
“When we do strawberries right in the morning, there’s probably 60 to 70 cars waiting to get in,” he says.
Anand Patel is one of the people who comes to the farm regularly. He and his family pick peas now that the strawberries are gone.
“I am so sad they are closing this farm for the community,” he says. “I hope the new owner keeps this tradition alive.”
Merry doesn’t know what will happen to his farm. He has considered leasing the land or looking into conservation plans.
When the farm gates close to the public for the last time, North Central Wisconsin will have one less place to pick fresh strawberries.
But workers, friends and visitors will have 40 years of full bellies and sweet memories.