Aside from one week in July, you won’t find too many raspberries in Hopkins these days.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Raspberry fields dominated Hopkins’ landscape through the first part of the 20th Century.
The credits Joe and John Empanger with bringing raspberries to Hopkins. A St. Louis Park farmer named George Pratt gave the men several raspberry plants in 1880, according to Hopkins Through the Years.
Hopkins’ soil was ideal for raspberries, but the Empangers continued to develop better and better varieties—although they never grew raspberries commercially.
Czech farmers near Shady Oak Lake launched Hopkins’ commercial raspberry industry. John Feltl Jr. is considered the father of this industry. Among other contributions, he developed a way to bank dirt that helped raspberry plants survive Minnesota’s harsh winters. Feltl lived on his farm for 95 years.
The Historical Society estimates that Hopkins had about 800 acres of raspberries planted by the 1920s.
Supporting businesses sprang up around the raspberry industry. The Hopkins Fruit Package Co. built what was called “the berry box factory” on Mainstreet, between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. Two local brothers, Theodore and Edwin Bren also started the Bren Berry Box Factory in a barn that their grandfather built.
Raspberries weren’t just a commercial crop. Longtime resident , then known as Margaret Rogers, recalled that they were a regular part of the diet.
“Back then, everybody grew raspberries, whether as farmers who took them to market or for their own use,” Chastek said. “That was during the Depression and so there were a lot of people growing their own food.”
In 1940, Marge married Clint Chastek, whose family owned a berry farm in the area right off Shady Oak and Smetana Roads. That farm operated until 1968, when it was bought for what was to be the site of a school that was never built.
The Depression was hard on raspberry farmers. A heat wave hurt farmers in much the same way that the Dust Bowl wiped out farmers in the American prairie.
It was at this time that community leaders decided to start a festival to promote Hopkins, according to the Raspberry Festival’s website. Hopkins food merchant Art Plankers came up with the raspberry theme and, in 1934, the Raspberry Festival was born.
Actual raspberries were soon on the wane, though. Farmers switched to staples, such as tomatoes and corn, that were more in demand during the Depression. Then developers swallowed up the land for housing during the postwar boom. Westbrooke, at 11th Avenue South and Seventh Street South, grew up in the 1960s on farmland, some of which the Feltls owned. Opus II is on 450 acres in Minnetonka that once had raspberry farms.
Minnehaha Creek Watershed District aerial photos stretching back to the 1930s visualize this stark transformation. Hopkins is mostly green through the 1940s, but housing and asphalt multiply from the 1950s onward.
But even though Hopkins no longer sends thousands of crates of raspberries onto the market, the Raspberry Festival has kept alive this important part of Hopkins’ heritage.