History of the Hopkins Raspberry
The Raspberry Gets Its Start
Agriculture played an important role in the history of Hopkins. Early farmers discovered the land southwest of West Minneapolis in Minnetonka Township was ideal for growing raspberries. The farmers credited with bringing raspberries to Hopkins are Joe and John Empanger. They received several plants as a gift from George Pratt in the spring of 1880. Pratt’s farm was located near the intersection of Wooddale Avenue and Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park.
The Empangers initially planted the Philadelphia Raspberry bush on their farm and through the years made significant contributions to the development of better varieties. The Empangers never were commercial growers of raspberries but beginning in the 1880s, other Czech farmers who lived near Shady Oak Lake in Minnetonka began growing raspberries and it became a big commercial industry for the area. They found they could get into raspberry farming without as large an investment as other lines of farming.
Minnesota’s hard winters often caused serious damage to the delicate raspberry bushes. In 1886, John Feltl developed the concept of plowing a furrow along a row of raspberry plants and covering the entire plant with rich black earth for winter storage. Feltl’s banking practice was soon widely adopted by other raspberry farmers.
Hopkins children often worked in the raspberry fields. They would get up at 4 a.m., walk to the raspberry farms where they worked all day before quitting at 6 p.m. Alvina Young (later Mrs. Gorden Noleen) recalled walking 5 miles from her home to pick berries at the Lenander and Dominick farms. She would pick about four crates per day. There were 24 boxes of raspberries in a crate. She was paid 48 cents per crate.
1920s-40s: Raspberry Capital of the World
By the 1920s, growing raspberries had become a big business for Hopkins area farmers. It is estimated that at one time the Hopkins area had over 800 acres planted in raspberries! Most were used for fresh market consumption. In 1922, the Feltls hauled 248 cases of raspberries to Commission Row in Minneapolis. The cases brought payment of $1,000-an astronomical amount of money in 1922. From the late 1920s through the war years, Hopkins dominated the raspberry scene in Minnesota and for that matter, the nation. It became known as the “Raspberry Capital of the World.” But berry growing was hard work.
During the horse and buggy era, the farmers would have to leave home a 2 o’clock a.m. to be at the farmer’s market in Minneapolis at 6 o’clock when it opened. The only day they did not pick berries was Saturday because the market was closed on Sunday. Saturday was the day to hoe the potatoes, carrots, cucumber and melon plants and set out the young berry plants that were needed for the future raspberry crop. It took three years to grow plants to a productive state. The plants had to be nurtured to survive the winter and tied to poles to withstand wind; the berries had to be picked, crated and hauled to market. As Dr. Frank Kucera stated in his memoirs, “I often wondered when the buyers complained about the price of $10 per crate of 24 pints to a crate if they knew how much work it took to produce these berries… I believe the farmers were entitled to that price every time, but I know that many times they got much less.”
By 1913, farmers were marketing their berries through cooperative associations rather than in the central Minneapolis market. This way, they could tend to the finer details of cultivation and leave behind marketing worries. The Hopkins area growers used the Excelsior Fruit Growers Cooperative, which served towns located principally on the M. and St. L. and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroads.
The Depression struck hard in the 1930s and many Hopkins raspberry farmers went out of business. A sweltering heat wave in 1931 was followed by a drought. Hennepin County farmers lost nearly $3,000,000 in income. Since raspberries were a delicious fruit and not a necessary staple, consumers felt they couldn’t spend their money on suck luxuries. Many of the truck farmers switched to staples such as tomatoes, corn, green peppers and cauliflower. Some raspberries continued to be grown though, for in 1934 the total production was listed as 125,000 crates, which were shipped from town in 86 railroad freight cars.
The End of an Era
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, some raspberries continued to be grown in the Hopkins area, but the number of patches continued to dwindle. Hopkins’ reputation as the raspberry capital of the world was lamented in the Columbus, Kansas Daily Advocate of August 12, 1983 with a quote from Clint Blomquist, Curator of the Hopkins Historical Society: “We’d ship raspberries out by the freight carload, and we had to import people for 40 or 50 miles away in season to pick berries…..now there are no berry patches……Well, there’s one……but the lady who runs it is in her 80s, and her daughter says that when she dies, the berry patch dies with her.”
Where to Find Raspberry Bushes in Hopkins Today
- The Depot Coffee House, 9451 Excelsior Boulevard
- Northeast corner of Maeztold Field, south of the LRT Regional Trail