U-PICK BERRIES,
A SWEET SUCCESS
| 2014 Q2 | story by LIZ WESLANDER  | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
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Wohletz Farm Fresh

Wohletz Farm Fresh specializes in u-pick strawberries, but they are also in the business of creating sweet childhood memories – which is just how Jane Wohletz wants it.

It was Jane’s own fond childhood memories of strawberry picking that made her want to plant a strawberry patch when she and her husband, Jerry, bought their farm just south of Lawrence in 1996. Unfortunately, unpredictable Kansas springs do not naturally lend themselves to strawberry growing, so the Wohletzes initially decided to stick with more sure-fire options like tomatoes and broccoli.

The Wohletz family had enough success growing vegetables that they started selling at the Lawrence Farmer’s Market in 2003.

“We quickly realized the benefits for our two older kids,” says Jane. “Working on the farm and working with the public at the market was great experience for them.”

Jane never let go of the strawberry patch idea, and in 2006, she and Jerry decided to try growing 200 strawberry plants using a method called plasticulture, which replaces mulch and other ground cover with plastic. Although this method does not protect against harsh spring frosts, it does keep weeds down and holds in irrigated moisture.

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Wohletz Farm Fresh

“It cuts down on watering, cuts down on fertilizer, and cuts down on pests,” says Jane.

Plasticulture worked well for Jane and Jerry, and the following season they planted 15,000 strawberry plants. By 2010, they were ready to open the farm for u-pick. The Wohletzes now have 32,000 strawberry plants covering 2 acres. They still use row cover in the spring to protect the plants from frost, but say plasticulture has allowed them to fulfill Jane’s dream of having a strawberry patch.

“I love every bit of it,” says Jane. “The memories that I had, now other people can have them.”

Jane also works part time at a preschool and Jerry works full- time for UPS, but the couple anticipates continuing to build the farm after retirement, says Jane. Their older children are now in college, but their son still maintains the farm’s website, and their daughter helps with accounting. Their 13 –year-old daughter helps with the farm and has developed her own cut flower business.

“She gets to use 20 percent of what she makes for mad money,” says Jane. “The rest goes into the college fund.”

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