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Casey's Berries returns to its strawberry roots

Ted Casey, owner of Casey's Berries at 1578 Highway 65 in New Richmond, shows Connie Stacken of Star Prairie how to find the best strawberries during her visit. Casey's Berries has been open for strawberry picking since mid-June.1 / 2
Bailey Matthys, 17, has been helping with Casey's Berries since planting last year. The New Richmond senior continues to work on the farm assisting customers like Brittany Wattier, 10, choose the largest berries - known as "apples" - from the back rows.2 / 2

Even though this is the first year Casey's Berries has been open - a you-pick and pre-pick strawberry patch located at 1578 Highway 65 in New Richmond -- it is not the first time people have flocked to those strawberry fields.

"There have been strawberries here from the late 1920s to about the 1960s," said Ted Casey, owner of Casey's Berries. "The 20 acres of strawberries saved this farm during the Great Depression."

During that time, he said, a lot people came from all over the area to pick 32 quarts of berries for $1.38. Some people even got paid one cent to pick one heaping quart of berries to sell.

"An older lady came by the other week and said that she used to pick here as a child, and the money she earned helped save their farm," recalled Casey.

The Caseys have lived on this property ever since William Casey - Ted's great-grandfather -- bought it back in 1896.

In the 1960s, the Casey family had 20 acres of strawberries. By the 1980s, the berries had dwindled down to only one acre. Around this time, Ted Casey said he got a "real job," married and started a family.

After 12 years, he and his family decided to buy the house and 17 acres from his father, who owned 350 acres. Two events allowed Casey to consider opening a berry patch again: his daughters entered college and a friend's retirement from operating a berry patch.

"I'd been friends with Everett (Glaser, former owner of The Patch in New Richmond) and I'd said that when he retired, I would get the equipment from him."

When The Patch closed a couple years ago, Casey knew the time was right to start the strawberry fields again.

With the help of family and friends, the fields were prepped last spring.

"There was a homeschooling family, the Simpsons, that helped my wife and I," said Casey. "A high-schooler named Bailey Matthys also helped out a lot. With all the rain we had, we had to hand pull all the weeds in seven acres. If it wasn't for those kids and Bailey, we wouldn't have a patch this year."

In addition to the constant rain, a computer glitch when he placed his online order sent him eight varieties of strawberries - all a week late.

However, the eight varieties -- which include Clancy's, Wendy's and Honeoye - offer customers differing degrees of sweetness whether they want to make jam or eat them off the vine.

Casey said that his patch tries to make berry picking a fun experience. Not only are the plants grown in 42-inch-wide rows, there is straw between the rows to provide extra cushion as well as keep moisture out.

For people who may have difficulty getting around, Casey keeps some berries by the irrigation pipe close to the front so they don't have to walk as far.

They provide ice cream buckets and trays for picking; customers pay by the pound. If it is a particularly hot day, they hand out free bottles of water. Casey said they will even let customers sample the varieties of berries to determine which they would rather pick.

Matthys, 17, said that although the planting last year was a bit rough, she is enjoying working at the berry farm with the fruits of her labors.

"We garden at my house - (Ted's) parents live across the street from me," said Matthys. "The strawberries here are amazing and Ted is a great boss to have."

Casey's Berries is open from 6 a.m. - 8 p.m. (unless picked out). For more information, call 715-977-7929.