Becker, Minnesota once claimed the title of “Strawberry Capital” of the Midwest. All thanks to the work of Becker farmer Carroll “Strawberry” Johnson.
Born in December 1918, Carroll Johnson’s work in agriculture led to significant developments in farming, particularly for strawberry farms. His work in marketing and promotion helped make Becker famous for its strawberries.
Starting in 1936, the summer after his High School graduation Carroll Johnson planted a few strawberry plants and sold the produce door-to-door. In the fall he attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in horticulture. Each summer he would return to his family farm and increase acreage devoted to strawberry plants.
Overtime, Johnson continued selling to the local markets, eventually expanding as far as Fargo, North Dakota. He also increased the size of his farm. At its peak in the 1970s, the Johnson Berry Farm extended to over 150 acres. Agriculturalists described the farm as the largest strawberry farm in the Midwest. Johnson also adopted a “pick your own” strategy for marketing. Allowing individuals access to parts of his farm to allow them to pick their own berries. News reports suggested families would travel from throughout the state to visit the Johnson Berry Farm. A report from WCCO radio claimed two women hired a taxi to bring them from the Twin Cities to the Johnson farm. The cab driver then had to wait while the ladies picked berries.
|Above:1966 pin promoting first Becker Strawberry Festival.
below: 1971 pin from the final year of the brief Becker
Artifacts from the collections of
Sherburne History Center
Throughout his career, Johnson continued to experiment with plant varieties and planting methods. Johnson and Marion Hagerstrom hold the patent on the “Crimson King” strawberry. Johnson was quoted as describing the berry as, “a bigger, brighter berry that holds up.” Johnson also helped develop the “Luscious Red” and the “Red Rich” varieties of strawberries.
His planting experiments included alternate plantings of four rows of berries to two rows of corn. At the end of the season, the corn stalks remained in place to catch and hold the snow as an insulator to protect the strawberry plants. “It also stops the wind,” he explained.
Johnson also played a key role in promoting Becker as a destination point for strawberry lovers. In the mid-1960s, The Becker Strawberry Festival played a significant role for promotion and entertainment in each growing season.
Johnson worked and developed strawberry farming for more than 50 years. His efforts made Becker, Minnesota the “Strawberry Capital” of the Midwest.