By PEGGY SENZARINO
CLEAR LAKE — Generations of North Iowans have relied on Bob and Donna Furleigh for one of the sweetest treats of summer — strawberries.
Bob Furleigh started raising strawberries on the family’s Clear Lake farm 55 years ago while he was still in college.
He and Donna married later that same year.
Furleigh estimates the operation has provided jobs for 5,000 to 6,000 people over the past half century.
Furleigh recalls planting the first 5,000 strawberry plants on his hands and knees, crawling through the fields.
He also watered the plants by hand.
“We just love to do it,” Furleigh said, adding he planted 21,000 new plants this spring.
The Furleighs have about 4.5 acres in production this year.
Sixteen pickers, paid 50 cents a pound, brought in 1,000 pounds of strawberries Wednesday.
Berry lovers can come and pick their own or buy already-picked berries in a building behind the couple’s home.
The strawberry season is short, just about three weeks long, and the berries are highly perishable, Furleigh said.
He’s not sure exactly why he decided to grow strawberries.
“I don’t know. I guess my dad probably always dreamed that we would have strawberries.”
Maybe the business was in his genes. Bob and his sister Mary (Furleigh) Woerner picked berries as children at a nearby farm, earning 2 cents a quart. The farmer upped the rate to 2.5 cents if you stayed the whole season.
“A nickel went quite a ways,” he said. They knew a place in Clear Lake where they go get a double-dip ice cream cone for a nickel on Saturday nights.
The recent rainy weather has been a headache for the Furleighs.
“Water is always good for strawberries, but you can get too much of anything,” Donna said.
“He (Bob) was awful frustrated those days when it rained and rained and rained.”
Bob said another day of rain on Wednesday would have been a big problem.
“Today the sun is shining and we’re playing catch-up.”
The couple loves strawberries. Bob admits to sampling many berries.
“I exceed my vitamin C requirement many times over just wandering through the field,” he said.
Customers come from all over North Iowa and some from as far away as Webster City and Iowa Falls.
“We know they make a lot of jam. We have people come and buy 50 to 60 pounds, you know,” Donna said.
It’s hard work keeping the fields weeded and free of pests, but they say they love what they’re doing.
“That’s kind of our approach. We just keep plugging along,” Bob said.
The Furleighs’ farm is located at 811 N. 56th St. off of Highway 122. For picking information or to place an order, call 641- 357-4097.