Sturm's Berry Farm
Sturm's Berry Farm (Located in Corbett, Oregon) first came into existence in 1941 and it has always been a family owned farm. The farm has over 100 acres of various berries. Don is the third generation of his family to keep up the tradition of growing high-quality berries. He was born in 1955 and worked doing a wide variety of jobs on the farm all through school. The farm first started growing black raspberries in 1962, and when Don took over the farm in the 1980s he continued to grow these rare berries. He is even working on developing more land near the Oregon coast specifically for black raspberries. He is well-known throughout Oregon for delivering fresh, high quality berries. His son Travis has worked on the farm for most of his life and the Sturms plan on continuing the family tradition of farming into the future.
As Don began to distribute his berries to other states in the Northwest, many people would recognize him and his trucks, but they could never remember his name. Instead, everyone started calling him simply “The Berry Man”. This caught on so quickly that Don decided that would be a great name to put on all his flats of berries, and the name is still being used today.
The micro-climate in this specific part of Oregon is perfect for growing the very fickle black raspberry (rubus occidentalis) due to the moderate temperatures and high amounts of rain for most of the year. The winters stay warm enough that the roots don’t freeze, and the summers stay relatively cool during the time approaching harvest so that the berries don't roast on the vines. The valley soil is full of nutrients for the berries to grow, and the sandy loam allows the soil to drain quickly during the heavy rain season.
The farm has also installed expensive drip irrigation on all of their fields. This allows them to supply water directly to the roots of the berry plants rather than wasting copious amounts of water using overhead spray irrigation commonly found at many farms. Drip irrigation also substantially reduces the amount of mold found on the plants and berries, as it does not spray the entire vine with water and also limits water to unwanted weeds.
Speaking of berries, the farm grows a wide variety, including six varieties of red raspberries, 3 varieties of black raspberries, 6 varieties of blackberries, marion berries, boysenberries, blueberries, and strawberries. He sells most of his berries directly to markets locally in Portland and along the coast. You can walk into many stories in the local Portland area and find berries and jams straight from Sturm’s farm. The farm also distributes to the nearby states of Idaho, Utah, and Washington.
For black raspberries, the picking season is limited to three weeks in July, which is shorter than most other berries. During this time, black raspberries are harvested, sorted, cleaned, and put onto a refrigerated truck within an hour of being picked. Within 6-12 hours the berries are taken to a nearby facility where they are individually flash frozen and packaged. It takes less than 24 hours for the berries to go from on the vine to frozen and packaged in consumer-ready bags.
Harvesting the berries is a lot of work, but so is pollinating them! Sturm’s is home to the Oregon Berry Bee Project, whose goal is to help bolster the dwindling population of native Oregon Berry Bees by setting up safe and symbiotic homes for them on berry farms. Sturm’s farm was chosen for this in part because they do not use any pesticides or other chemicals on the berries. Bees can be harmed by even trace amounts of chemicals. Don has personally helped with various parts of this project, from building bird-safe shelters for the bees, to helping install webcams for scientists around the country to monitor bee activity. The Oregon Berry Bee Project also benefits the farm. Here is a quote from their project website:
“Using native solitary bees for pollination fits well into the sustainable agriculture practices on the Sturm farm. The Sturms do not use any insecticides on their berries. Beneficial insect populations have been sufficient in the absence of insecticides to control insect pests. The lack of insecticides makes the farm a favorable place for pollinators as well. Because they offer pesticide-free berries, they have developed a large customer base who we hope will appreciate native solitary bees for pollination.”
The Sturms have partnered with OBBP since 2007 and the project is continuing with good success in 2011. Sturm’s Berry Farm provides a safe haven for the bees to thrive and pollinate cane berry bushes, and according to the researchers involved, “it is clear that these bees are doing well” in their new home.
Don’s farm is also home to many honey bees that are owned by local beekeepers and are not park of the OBBP. Honey gets flavor from the flowers the bees collect pollen from, so berry farms are a natural location for businesses looking to harvest and sell honey locally. Most beekeepers have to move the bees off of farms when pesticides are being sprayed because the bees are very sensitive to any chemicals. On Sturm’s Berry Farm the bees can stay on location year-long due to the lack of any harsh insecticides being sprayed.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is another system utilized at Sturm's Berry Farm to improve the quality of their berries while reducing pesticide and other chemical use. IPM focuses on understanding the natural ecosystem that exists at a farm and utilizing natural methods for keeping harmful pest populations at acceptable levels. It focuses more on supporting natural predators and using mechanical prevention methods (such as screens and traps) instead of eradicating everything with pesticides. The Sturms family has farmed this land for generations and prefer to use sustainable long-term methods so that future generations will have the same quality land that previous ones had.