Hopkins is hoping to revive one of its sweetest traditions: The city has been planting raspberry patches in local parks and locales as a nod to its roots.
Raspberry farming was once a booming business in the Hopkins area. Old timers still remember harvesting the berries each year until nearly all of the farm fields gave way to suburban neighborhoods.
A raspberry is featured prominently in the city’s logo as a symbol of the region’s history. As raspberry farms multiplied during the first decades of the 1900s, Hopkins became known as the “Raspberry Capital of the World.”
Now, berry bushes have been added at Maetzold Field, near the police station and by the Depot Coffee Shop. Bringing raspberries back in selected spots is not only pollinator-friendly, it’s also a way to contribute to the urban foraging movement, where folks pick edible plants from public and private places to eat.
“It’s a tradition. It’s sad we have lost our raspberries, but how wonderful to bring them back,” said Nora Davis, a longtime volunteer with the Hopkins Historical Society. “It only makes sense to have more raspberries and how wonderful to raspberry the whole community.”
Davis, who grows raspberries in her own backyard, gushes a bit about the fuchsia berry.
“Everyone loves them. The birds love them. Squirrels will pull down a branch and nibble. Sometimes it’s a battle about who gets them — the critters or me,” Davis said. “They are beautiful and such a wonderful fresh burst of flavor. You look forward to them all year long.”
Simple is best when it comes to preparing the berry, she said, whether eaten fresh off the vine or perhaps in a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
According to a history published on the city’s website, early farmers in then-Minnetonka Township first started planting raspberries around 1880. The thorny bushes thrived there, especially after farmers developed the technique of burying the plants after harvest to protect them from Minnesota’s harsh winters.
Hopkins children often worked in the fields to tend to the labor-intensive crop, rising at 4 a.m. and working until 6 p.m. One woman recalls picking four crates for a daily take of $1.92.
But the Great Depression, coupled with a heat wave in 1931, forced many Hopkins raspberry farmers out of business. Some switched to growing tomatoes, corn and peppers.
“It was the Depression, and raspberries were a luxury item,” said Kristin Kaspar, a Hopkins resident and consultant with the Hopkins Historical Society.
The financial crisis did produce one good thing: The city’s annual Hopkins Raspberry Festival started in 1935. The festival continues to be celebrated to this day, with this year’s events scheduled for July 9-17.
“The Raspberry Festival started to promote the sale of raspberries so the farmers would not go out of business, and it was very successful,” Kaspar said.
Nevertheless, the number of raspberry farms dwindled in the 1950s and ’60s. The tradition never went completely dead, however; some residents continued to cultivate small patches of berry bushes in their yards.
“There are definitely a lot of private raspberries in town,” said Pam Hove, an employee with Hopkins’ Public Works Department who is overseeing the raspberry campaign.
Kaspar’s father and aunt recall working in the raspberry fields as children. So when she discovered a few small raspberry bushes growing along the fence in her Hopkins backyard, she decided to let them grow. Last year, she had her first harvest.
“I realized this is my heritage,” Kaspar said. “It’s a neat little reminder of what the city used to be.”