“I get involved in every aspect of the farming,” Greg Palenschat said. He grew up in Christ’s Household of Faith Church and School, which runs Natura Farms as a nonprofit operation. “I worked out here with my father because I was part of the school growing up. We were part of the program for years. My dad was part of the crew. We came out here a lot, worked a lot of fields.”
While the farm continues to produce fruits and vegetables for members of the church community, it also offers a range of pick-your-own fruits to the public throughout the summer. “Berries have been on this farm through a couple of different transitions. At one time the farm was a place that sold plants, another time it was for schoolchildren to have someplace to come,” Palenschat said. “It was really great to have the opportunity to come back down with the new format. This will be my fifth season.”
He officially became Director of Marketing three seasons ago, although, he said, “I don’t think it’s too much different — I’ve always been in the customer service part of it and helped with the pick your own.”
The farm offers strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants. Elderberries will be available next year. During the pick-your-own season, Palenschat said, “On a good day we get about fifteen hundred to 2,000 people a day through here. I’m out here to make it a personable experience so you want to come back and you tell your friends.”
The emphasis on customer service offsets a minimal advertising budget. “We do social media, we advertise in Minnesota Grown,” he said. “We spend less than $100 a year. My goal is to make everybody feel welcome and happy and want to come again.”
Is this a year-round job?
Yes. What we typically do in the winter hours is come out to make sure pipes aren’t frozen, to do snow removal. We’re learning: about organic certifications. We do a lot of studying in the winter.
How much care do the berries need?
A lot. Weeding, giving them nutrients, giving them water, taking care of the runners in the middle of the rows. We put in a new patch this year that will be ready next year. It’s quite a job, especially the strawberries. If I sprayed, I wouldn’t have to weed on my hands and knees as much, but I’d rather do that than put pesticides and herbicides into my body. We want to grow things as naturally as possible.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge on the farm is that it’s constant change. You can come out with a plan on paper, and the plan is going to change almost assuredly every day. There’s water, a leak, a tractor breaking down, a person being sick. You have to be willing to change and move with the flow. I do enjoy that, but I am a very plan-oriented individual. I’m adapting.
What’s the best part of the job?
There are so many things I enjoy about it. This time of year — the pick-your-own, the rush of people, the atmosphere. It’s a fun time. I think everybody else on the crew has a fun time, too. One of the people out in the field was saying it’s the most wonderful time of the year. □