Farm to Fermentation: Raspberry Edition

 There are three rules at Blue Skies Berry Farm: eat all the berries you can, pick anywhere you’d like, and engage in conversation with someone you don’t know.

“Berry picking is a social event. It’s supposed to be social. That’s why we have the rules the way we do. We have non-rules,” explained Paul Maki, co-owner of Blue Skies Berry Farm in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.

We arrived at the farm, located 16 miles south of Madison, on a beautiful but breezy late-summer day. We were on a mission to harvest four flats of fruit to make raspberry liqueur.

Over a glass of raspberry wine, Paul told us of how he purchased the 3.77-acre farm in 1991. He and his wife, Louise, grow four varieties of raspberries: Caroline, Anne, Autumn Bliss and Goldie. They introduced vegetables to the farm in 1998 as a means to prevent perennial weeds that were destroying the raspberries.

“It’s permaculture at its finest,” Paul explained. Blue Skies was certified organic for 11 years; however, Paul and Louise decided to stop pursuing federal organic certification after meeting Michael Pollan.

“We still grow organically. We just can’t say we’re organic anymore. We just say, ‘20 years chemically free.’”

Before he became a full-time farmer Paul spent his days as a reporter and editor. He credits his interest in farming to an Armenian refugee he encountered while growing up in the Houghton and Hancock area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“He was the town drunk. He lived on the edge of town. No family or anything. And my dad took him to help straighten him out. He was my mentor from age six to 10. We gardened. He would take me berry picking and gardening. It was a real influential time,” he said.

Mentorship through farming is something Paul and Louise carry on today. During the summers they employ local kids on the farm.

"Agriculture in Wisconsin in the last 20 years has changed from employing young people to employing professionals. There’s no work for kids in small towns anymore. Without work kids get into trouble. I learned that growing up in small town in the Upper Michigan. You need somebody out there that’s going to guide you a little bit,” he said.

Paul and Louise are passionate about preserving the farming heritage of Wisconsin. Their home on the farm was built in 1862 and they resorted a barn on the property that was built in the 1890s.

“I try to keep it looking traditional,” Paul explained.

As for the name of the farm, Paul took inspiration from the 1929 Irving Berlin song, Blues Skies; a song that perfectly captures the mood on the farm that day.

Later in the week, Emily and I joined Hastings and Mark at the commissary for some late-night liqueur making.