John Jansen figured he had two years.
By the time he was to retire from Potlatch two years from now, his home-based berry farm would be running at full production, a 10-year hobby/side business that would help him, as well as his wife Ruth, financially after his retirement. Ruth retired from Potlatch a couple of years earlier and now works as a teaching assistant at Garfield Elementary School.
But after 29 years at Potlatch, Jansen found himself without a job and an uncertain future when the paper mill closed its doors in May.
The disappointment and uncertainty after the paper mill's demise has suddenly blossomed into a budding opportunity for Jansen. He and Ruth not only plan to expand the berry farm earlier, but this fall he is enrolled in horticulture courses at Central Lakes College. His goal is to develop the best-tasting and hardiest berries and grapes in the Brainerd lakes area.
It's a dream come true.
"Potlatch has been good to me. It's the best place I've ever worked," Jansen explained. "But there's good that has come out of this. This is what I've always wanted to do."
He started horticulture courses at Central Lakes College today.
The Jansens grow raspberries, blueberries and grapes to sell on their 2 1/2-acre berry farm called Brambling Rows, located on St. Mathias Road in Crow Wing Township. He's a self-taught berry expert. Jansen has been breeding raspberries for more than 10 years, along with other fruit varieties. He and Ruth sell their fruits at the Lakes Area Growers Market in downtown Brainerd.
His favorite crops include his hybrid crosses of black and red raspberries and the Valiant grapes.
Grapes growing in Brainerd, you may ask?
Jansen's vision is that people living in this area will discover and enjoy fruits that typically aren't found here. His grapes are growing so thick on the vine that they have broken his wire trellises.
He makes wine for family and friends with the grapes, but also will start to sell the first crop of the summer at the growers market on Tuesday. People use the grapes to make jams and jellies, as well as make the sweetest homemade grape juice. They can give you the recipe if you ask. Ruth also sells her secret raspberry ice cream topping at the market.
"I won't even give the recipe to my kids," she said with a good-natured laugh. Together the couple has eight children. "I say I'm going to sell it to Dairy Queen someday and then I can really retire."
They plan to build a pit greenhouse this year to raise vegetables and other produce as well. John hopes to one day market and mass propagate his variety of black raspberries. Ruth is always busy picking berries and running the daily operation at the berry patch.
If Potlatch hadn't closed, John Jansen concedes that he probably wouldn't have gone back to college to further his passion for growing fruit. It's been a remarkable opportunity in disguise.
No sour grapes there.
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