‘We’re holding out okay’: Chassell farmers prepare for annual Strawberry Festival despite dry conditions

Farmers are getting by despite the lack of rain with irrigation systems and other methods to water the berries.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:11 PM EDT
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CHASSELL, Mich. (WLUC) - During this especially dry period in the U.P, some Copper Country residents are concerned about the impact on the growing of crops in the area.

This is especially the case around Chassell, which is the home of several strawberry farms and July’s annual Strawberry Festival. However, some farms are getting through the dry conditions with irrigation, such as Niemela Family Growers.

“So far, we’re holding out okay,” said Niemela Family Growers Owner Ben Niemela. “We have irrigation pipes, we have a pond where we irrigate out of, you can see the pipes in the field behind me, and so far, we’re doing okay. Hopefully, the pond will hold up. I think it will.”

Niemela and his family use their irrigation system both during dry periods and in other crop-endangering situations such as frost. Using the system does require extra fuel and effort to get the job done.

“We have to manually lift all of the pipes, haul them from field to field and set them up again,” continued Niemela. “So, it’s quite a job, but we’re glad we have the ability to do so.”

However, not all farms have these systems. One example is the Crane Berry Farm, which uses a well on the property. 10 days ago, the farm planted new plants for next year, and due to the dry conditions, the owner needed additional assistance to keep them watered.

“I was able to use a tanker once I planted them to get them set in, and they’re doing really well,” said Chassell Lions Club Secretary and Crane Berry Farm Owner Dan Crane. “We’ve only had an eighth of an inch of rain since I planted them, so that’s not enough, but the forecast shows that there is some rain coming, so we’re hopeful.”

Despite the conditions, Crane assures everyone that it will not have any major effect on this year’s strawberry fest. In fact, for the Strawberry Festival’s 75th year, the Club is planning to aim even higher than previous years.

“Last year, we served about 4800 to 4900 shortcakes,” added Crane. “And we’re planning on just over 5100 this year.”

There will also be a variety of new features at this year’s festival, including a strawberry-shaped helium balloon in this year’s parade, as well as a bus service delivering attendees to the festival from as far back as the Chassell High School parking lot.

The festival will run from July 7-8. For more information about the Strawberry Festival, click here.