Influenced by time spent on his uncle’s farms while growing up in the 1940s, Joe Hassle and his wife, Harriett, bought land and became first-generation farmers shortly after they married in 1953. Not having been raised on farms, Joe and Harriett thought “outside the box” and began a culture of innovation that continues today.
The Hassles’ original farm was 80 acres of cherries, strawberries and raspberries, located just outside Dowagiac in Southwest Michigan. A few years later, they got into raising green beans and acres of traditional row crops including field corn and soybeans.
Growing green beans in the 1960s and 1970s greatly expanded the farm and its custom-harvesting business, a feat that was followed by new acreage in cucumbers, asparagus, peaches and cherries.
In the 1990s Joe and Harriett’s three sons Joe Jr., John and Scott officially joined the family farm, bringing additional expertise to the Berrybrook family enterprise. The farm now encompasses nearly 10,000 acres of grain, 580 acres of asparagus, 780 acres of apples and 300 acres of cucumbers.
“Because we have such a large and diverse farming operation, we’ve been able to bring all three of us into the business. My role has evolved to manage our fruit farm” Scott says.
In 1968, the Hassles planted their first apple trees. “Today we grow 14 different varieties of apples, yet I really consider our strengths to be Fuji, Gala, Golden and Red Delicious,” Scott says.
Research and environmental sustainability are important to Berrybrook. The Berrybrook orchards are GAP-certified on an annual basis, and the packing house the Hassles co-own is also GHP and Primus certified. Beginning this year, Berrybrook will move into Global GAP certification along with other Riveridge partners.
Berrybrook is involved in integrated pest management (IPM), and employs professional insect scouts to help determine optimal treatment windows for pests.
Some parts of the farm that are particularly sensitive to erosion have been protected by enrolling them in a federal set-aside program.
In looking to the future of the industry, Scott has joined the Michigan Apple Research Subcommittee, which invests in applied research projects that will guide the state’s apple growers for years to come.
On his own farms, he’s currently cooperating in university research projects including pheromone testing and brown marmorated stink bug traps. Hassle has adopted some newer production techniques, and will soon begin converting apple acreage to high density super spindle plantings and expanding trickle irrigation.
In considering the farms’ contributions to society, Scott says that one of Berrybrook’s core values is giving back to the community. The Hassles sponsor athletic teams, band events and school programs, in addition to community support.
“We’re trying to form our next generation, and not just our own kids,” Scott said. “That’s very important to us.”