There’s a new u-pick strawberry farm opening in Republic, with a story as sweet as the berries.
Danielle and Josh Rogers own Missouri Berries. He’s a former Marine who served three tours in Iraq and is now an anesthetist at Cox. Josh grew up on farmland near Sedalia, and Danielle was raised in Georgia.
“I had good memories from my childhood, and I knew I wanted to give my kids that someday. When we visited Georgia, I was amazed at the pecan trees, the blueberries,” he said.
It took him two years to convince Danielle a farm was a good idea, but in 2019, they bought 180 acres of neglected land with “weeds up to here” Danielle said, signaling her chest.
Originally, they planned to start a commercial blueberry operation. But as their kids, Mabel, 10, and Luke, 7, worked in the fields alongside them, the vision developed for an agrotourism destination. A place for other families to bond, have fun, connect with the land, and learn about sustainability like their family has.
They’ve spent the past three years clearing, tilling, building, planting 50,000 strawberries, and transforming the property into a destination. They hope to open the first week of May with the first of three strawberry varieties: Ruby June, then Chandler, and Flavor Fest will end the season. A farm access pass is $3 for ages 4 and older; veterans and active military are free.
There’s a large play area for children, picnic tables, three-and-a-half acres of strawberries, a concession trailer with strawberry donuts, strawberry slushies, lemonade, coffee and tea.
The play area is expected to be a big attraction: There’s a hay pyramid to conquer and an 11-foot-tall chair to scurry up that Josh built. There’s ring toss; a basketball hoop which was converted from a gravity wagon that was once used to feed cattle; and three tracks with plastic culverts that kids can climb inside and race against each other.
Trams retired from the Sedalia State Fair have been refurbished for little imaginations. There’s a fairy tale trail, which are storyboards peppered throughout the property and instead of turning a page in a book, kiddos continue the story at each station. There’s also a book station with farm-related books and silly photo ops.
Picnic tables placed throughout the property were built by Willard High School shop class. A large painted strawberry on a hill is a repurposed grain bin — a symbol of their ingenuity.
And sandboxes for little ones to play in, except those will be filled with corn instead of sand.
“We decided this because many kids have not had the pleasure of grabbing a handful of unmanipulated harvested corn,” said Danielle. “Everything we do on the farm has a tie back to farming and it’s important to us to give this experience to our visitors. At the end of each season, we will take the corn and feed it to the wildlife on the rest of our land.”
Even though Danielle initially thought this idea was crazy, she has discovered her passion.
Danielle quit her job as a sonographer in a hospital, went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental plant science from Missouri State University. She’s passionate about soils and sustainability and wants to teach families. She already has several homeschool groups lined up to come out for education and fun.
“Education is a big part of what we want to do. I want people to love the soil as much as I do,” she said.
Although they are not from this area, they had no trouble building a sense of community.
Local farmers have offered advice, loaned their tools and tractors, pitched in around the farm, answered questions, and become friends. There are other u-pick farms in the area and the owners have not acted as competitors, they’ve been mentors.
This was the most unexpected aspect and it’s been incredible, the Rogerses echoed.
“This whole thing has been so cool because of the support of local farmers,” said Josh. “If hail wipes us out tomorrow, it will all be worth it for what the kids have learned and the sense of community we’ve found.”
It’s been hard — harder than they dreamed — but an amazing learning experience for the entire family.
“They (the kids) have been exposed to more than I ever could have imagined,” Danielle said. “It’s been hard for me. I’m a Type-A personality. I’m going to research and take all these steps to get the answers. And then Mother Nature just laughs at me.”
This is the first year for strawberries, but they’ve planted blackberries and blueberries for next summer. Eventually, they’ll put in an orchard and pumpkin patch. There may be a corn maize down the road.
As Danielle spoke, a neighbor in a pickup truck drove by, honked and waved.
“That is what I am talking about,” she said. “They want us to succeed. Some days you’re in the field, you’re just so tired, and someone drives by and honks and that is the motivation you need to keep going.”
Want to go?
Missouri Berries, 2097 S. Highway PP, Republic expects to open the first week of May. Check Facebook for daily updates, or call the farm line 417-647-1424. It’s a u-pick strawberry farm and agrotourism farm with activities for kids. Admission is $3 for anyone older than 3. Active military and veterans are free.
Berries are $3.50 per pound for u-pick; $4.50 for pre-picked. There are donuts, coffee, strawberry lemonade and other concessions. There are picnic tables, photo stations and a field of activities for kids. They also sell honey from their property and t-shirts.