Horticulture alum and instructor Andy Petran started his Twin Cities Berry farm in Northfield, MN, in 2018. The farm produces six varieties of strawberries and will soon be growing raspberries. Twin Cities Berry is “a farm dedicated to increasing the Twin Cities' supply and access to healthy, locally produced fruit.” Petran is able to do this by “utilizing season extension technologies that push fruit production past its normal harvest window while maintaining impeccable taste and quality.”
His strawberry fruit leather was featured in the Star Tribune as one of the five best things their food writers ate the week of October 2.
We caught up with Petran after a busy harvest season to ask him seven quick questions.
1. How did you become interested in horticulture?
I was always interested in plants, especially during my undergraduate studies at St. Olaf. I focused on horticulture because I wanted to conduct research not just for any agricultural product, but for real human nourishment, and I felt horticulture was the best study for that.
2. Tell us about the journey to starting Twin Cities Berry.
That's a very long story, but essentially, I value autonomy and entrepreneurship. Also, my degree was in Applied Plant Sciences, so I feel taking your research and skills into an applied setting is a natural outcome for the values of that department. I grew up in a Northwest suburb of Chicago, got my undergrad at St. Olaf College ('09) majoring in Biology, Asian Studies, and Chinese. I spent three years after undergrad working at various Environmental Learning Centers across the country (including Wolf Ridge ELC in Finland, MN), before biking across the country in 2011 and then starting grad school at the U of M that fall. I eventually received my PhD in Applied Plant Sciences in 2016, worked as a post-doc at the University for two years, and decided to strike out on my own and start Twin Cities Berry Company in 2018. We are currently in our third field season.
3. What made you decide to go to graduate school?
At that point, I wanted to be a professor full-time. I changed my goals over the course of my graduate and post-doc studies, but always wanted to stay close to academia even in the farming world.
4. What was your most memorable class?
My favorite class, because I was a huge nerd, was Experimental Design in the Statistics Department. Initially I took the class through the Stats Department and not the agronomy-specific offering… However, I eventually valued the effect of that decision even more, which was that I was able to interact with grad students from disciplines I wouldn't have otherwise come into contact with and learned a lot through their perspectives. I think every grad student should take at least one class outside of their bubble for more holistic educational development.
5. What's happening on the farm during these cold months?
During the winter months I calculate and analyze yields from the previous season, write and report on grants, come up with recipes for more products offered at farmers markets, and take breaks!
6. How has the stay-at-home order and the pandemic affected you?
Well, it hasn't affected work all that much since I spend most of my time naturally quarantined alone in an open field all day. My biggest change is thinking about how to protect my health, since even a two-week hiatus from working the farm during the harvest season would be enough to deal a critical blow to my small (but growing) business. This is why I opted for a totally online format for APS 5103.
7. Speaking of your course, Integration of Sustainable Agriculture Concepts, what are the applied concepts you bring to the classroom?
The course is built around combining sound agricultural theory with the application of those concepts in a real farm setting. Most classes are split into two main components: a component where we discuss agricultural topics, such as organic certification procedures, agricultural public policies, grant writing for farms, etc., and a component where I discuss what is currently going on at my farm and how the topics discussed in class look within a farm business in real-time. I also design lectures around topics that the students want to learn more about before they leave school (I call them "Wild Card Classes") and tap into my network of young farming professionals, conducting interviews with farmers around the state about topics discussed in class and relaying that information to the students.