What started as a community picnic in Hopkins is now a weeklong festival celebrating the fruit that built the city, raspberries.
Raspberries proved a sweet reprieve for the farmers of Hopkins during some of the worst years of the Great Depression, and the Minneapolis suburb continues to pay tribute to the small red fruit as it prepares to roll out its 80th Raspberry Festival July 12 to 20.
A hot-weather community picnic in 1934, complete with “free ice cream for the youngsters,” according to an article in the Hennepin Historical Review from that summer, was soon christened “Raspberry Day” and grew into a large-scale parade and all-out festival the following year.
For this year’s celebration sponsors, donors and vendors have contributed an estimated $65,000, said Charles Yunker, spokesman for the Hopkins Raspberry Association, showing that Hopkins has turned the unassuming fruit into a point of pride rooted in its historically agricultural character.
“The festival was a marvelous idea,” said Bob Miller, a former Hopkins mayor and current board member of the city’s Historical Society. “This Raspberry Festival was different [from the county fairs]. They had something for everybody. They had softball tournaments, they had races, they had everything just to have a lot of fun. And they’d get 60,000 people in Hopkins.”
“It became a very centralized and obvious approach to recognize annually this opportunity to sponsor and promote raspberries,” said Jerre Miller, also on the board of the Hopkins Historical Society. “We’ll call ourselves the capital, the world capital of raspberries.”
Hopkins farmers sold their produce to in-town grocers and to surrounding areas, and boxcars laden with raspberries would often trundle their way to Chicago. The Millers recalled how nearly every child in Hopkins would be out plucking the ripe fruits from dawn to dusk.
“This isn’t a back yard operation; this is 40 acres of raspberries, 40 acres of commerce,” Bob Miller said.
And it was commerce that came to the forefront when Hopkins grocer Art Plankers suggested a raspberry-themed festival to rally the farmers who were watching raspberry prices dip lower and lower, according to documents at the Hopkins Historical Society.
With a mere $350 and only 11 days for planning, a grand festival that could lift the spirits and fatten the pocketbooks of Hopkins farmers seemed a chimera that could never be a reality. But when 20,000 people arrived in the city for the first full-scale Raspberry Festival in 1935 a yearly tradition began.
The mass metro-area migration to the 1935 festival proved to be the economic boon the town’s business people were looking for. Historical records show that farmers sold their raspberries for twice as much as the going price to crowds that far exceeded the organizers’ expectations.
An advertisement from the grand-scale event enticed people with promises of free raspberries and cream, live music and pie-eating contests. Then-mayor of Minneapolis Thomas Latimer had prodded people to “motor to Hopkins Sunday to enjoy the hospitality of the Northwest’s greatest suburb,” according to accounts by the Hopkins Historical Society.
Some of the first attractions, the parade and multiple coronations for a full court of Raspberry Royalty among them, are still put on with much fanfare, but others, like a midway, have come and gone. Newer draws, like the search for the Golden Raspberry medallion, introduced in the ’70s, and the car show have now gained a measure of longevity.
The free ice cream of that first “Raspberry Day” picnic, like the 40-acre raspberry fields, is gone, said Marlene Dvorak of the city’s Historical Society.
Nonetheless, the event has become a focal point of tradition for Hopkins over the years. Large pinboards at the Historical Society showcase the Raspberry Royalty throughout the years, and a display case houses a button collection, each year’s button pronouncing the character of the Raspberry Festival in a different way.
“We’re proud of 80 years,” Yunker said. “We must be doing something good in Hopkins, or it wouldn’t be around.”
Elizabeth Hustad is a Twin Cities freelancer. She can be reached at email@example.com.