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Mayville farmers have sweet, new beginning

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Danielle and Tim Clark will open their strawberry farm for its first season in mid-June. The couple recently purchased the farm from Wayne and Cindy Zastrow and have renamed it Mayberry Farms.

MAYVILLE - Tim and Danielle Clark both grew up as the fifth generations on their family’s farms in Dodge County, WI. Their love and passion for agriculture brought them together through their involvement with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Agriculturist program.

The couple served on the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Committee and share many other interests in farming and telling the farm story.

Danielle, whose maiden name is Hammer, says she didn’t initially set out to be a farmer. She went to school and worked in Europe for several years before returning to Wisconsin to get her agriculture degree at the University of River Falls.

After that she knew she wanted to farm. At her mom’s suggestion, she joined the Farm Bureau and soon after met Tim.

Since the couple began dating in 2011 they have always had the dream to raise a family on a farm. They began farming by raising beef cattle on her family’s farm. Then in May this year their dream came true when they purchased the 55 acre farmstead from the Zastrow family in Mayville.

Danielle says, “We love telling the story of agriculture and how farmer families produce food and we saw this “pick-your-own” berry farm as a way to bring consumers to our farm to see a real family farm.”

They are raising their son JP, 2, on the farm and are expecting another addition in September.

Danielle and Tim Clark (and their son JP)  recently realized their dream of buying a farm of their own. - a 50 acre strawberry farm that will open in mid-June.

Mayville mentors

We were fortunate,” says Tim, “because when we bought the farm from Wayne and Cindy Zastrow they agreed to help out the first year and they shared their mailing list and information with us.”

She notes, “We have 6000 addresses on our mailing list. They started a new list five years ago and passed it on to us. We will rely on Facebook and our Website to keep our customers up-to-date on openings.”

Tim says Wayne Zastrow has been his mentor.

"I’ve learned so much from him as we prepare our fields for this year’s picking and establish new fields for future years,” he said.

The Zastrows ran the pick-your-own business for 20 years after taking it over from the Steinbach family who also ran it for twenty years.

The Clarks named their farm Mayberry Farms, to combine the berries with the name of their town.

This year they will offer two varieties – Jewel and Cabot, on a five-acre picking area. A heavy straw mulch is between all the rows for easier picking and to keep weeds from starting between rows.

The Zastrows had raised wheat on a portion of their farm to provide their own straw but both Danielle and Tim come from farm families that raise cash crops, including wheat, so they will get straw from them.

Tim grew up in LeRoy, near Mayville, and went to school in Mayville. He says, “I remember coming here with my family to pick berries when I was little.”

Soon after they made arrangements to buy the farm they joined the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association so they can learn from others in the business and about the latest research.

Starting early

One of their first tasks, as new owners, was to uncover the strawberry plants that were protected over winter with a blanket of straw.

Strawberry plants are loaded with flowers this year, the promise of a good crop.  The berries are a little slower to mature in cool weather but they like the moisture and cool.

With help from the Zastrows, the four uncovered five acres in one weekend in early April. Once the berries are uncovered they began to develop flowers then fruit.

The Clarks learned that in Wisconsin there is still always a chance for frost and until about the middle of May, so they needed to be aware of the threat of frost and, if it occurs while the flowers are exposed, they need to irrigate it with water. Since they were not yet living in the modern 1868 home on the farm when they started working with the Zastrows to prepare for this year’s crop, they relied on the Zastrows to monitor the threat of frost.

Their next step was to establish the strawberries that will be next year’s crop. They can get three or four years from strawberries before rotating them out.

Danielle points out that planting strawberries on their farm requires four people.

“We need two people on the back feeding the planter, one person walking behind in case any of the plants fell out or didn’t get fed properly and another person driving the tractor,” she says. “Tim and I each took turns learning the different jobs. Driving is a lot harder than it looks because you have to space your rows properly.”

She reports that on one day they planted 8,000 plants and it took another full day to plant another 12,000 which will equal about 3 acres for next year.

As the strawberry season nears they have been busy recruiting workers. They plan to do employee training to keep things running smoothly.

Mayberry Farms

Mayberry Farms is a U-Pic and Ready Pic Strawberry Farm.

The families who came for the last 20 years to pick for the “ready pick” market will continue to do so for the new owners.

While the Zastrows raised peas to market at the same time as the strawberries, the Clarks have arranged to get peas from a nearby grower and not raise their own.

Like the Zastrows, the Clarks plan to raise raspberries to sell.

They also plan to try something new in the area – raising sweet corn that they can sell in August and September.

While there are sweet corn growers in Dodge County, there aren’t any growers in the immediate area of their new farm and both Danielle and Tim have experience raising sweet corn on their family’s farms.

To watch the progress of these young new farmers follow them on Facebook or at www.MayberryFarmsWI.com