An Interview with Katie Lange, Blue Fruit Farm “People of the Driftless”

First, a little history …

Katie Lange is Farm Operator and manages all aspects of the farm. Katie will be taking over as Owner as Jim and Joyce retire. She is learning numerous aspects of the farm from pest control to customer service.

Katie was born and raised in Winona where she lives with her partner, Luke. She has a degree in Community Health Promotion with an emphasis in Child Advocacy from Winona State University. She has interned with Gundersen Health System in the Global Partners division, studied pre-medicine, and worked as a clinical Research Fellow in community and preventive care. It did not take Katie long to discover that she could fix a symptom with a prescription, but it is much more challenging to fix the cause of a health problem. Katie then set out on a journey of discovering the actual causes of health disparities. She has coached holistic living and weight loss as well as educated on nutraceuticals. This has led to her mission of growing organic food and educating on the powerful health benefits of food and sustainable living practices. Katie’s vision is that, through Blue Fruit Farm and the organic fruit grown here, she can help provide people healthy foods and practices to reach true wellness of the mind, body and soul.

Tell us about what you do for work or your business, and how long have you been doing this?
I am in the transition phase of taking over Blue Fruit Farm where I started working in 2018 and took over as Farm Manager for the 2019 season. I will be leasing the business this season with the intent to purchase before the 2021 season. I also have an off-farm job working with adults with disabilities. This is a sleep-overnight position so it works really well as a supplement to the farm income while allowing me to be dedicated to the farm work during our growing season. Blue Fruit Farm is a 5 acre Certified Organic perennial fruit farm in Southeastern Minnesota. We grow health – healthy soil, healthy fruit, and healthy lives. Through our aronia berries, black currants, blueberries, elderberries, honeyberries, juneberries, and plums, we bring wonderful tasting fruits to our customers and educate on the powerful health benefits of what we grow!

Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career with your business. 
I am most proud of my work at Blue Fruit Farm. I have so many ideas to expand into pick-your-own and new value added products as the blueberry bushes continue to produce more fruit each year.

We’re constantly making things better, faster, smarter or less expensive. Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.
Birds love our fruit just as much as our customers which led to the current owners putting in overhead netting over the 5-acre field about seven years ago. The netting is very effective at protecting our harvest but it is also very labor intensive to set up and take down every year and to replace post and repair netting as needed. We just applied for a grant and are eagerly waiting for a response for a new technology. It is a bird deterrent laser that does no harm to the birds at all but deters them out of the field. It’s been shown to be effective in orchards and vineyards so we’re optimistic that it would help us too. If we get this grant and install this new device, it would protect our fruit without harming the wildlife and save about 340 labor hours every year.

What do you wish other people should know about you or your business?
Nature is such a powerful healer and preventer of many health disparities. There are so many health benefits to the fruit we grow and it is my mission in this world to continue to educate on the Food as Medicine concept.

More About Katie

So, what’s your story? Where were you born? How long have you been here in the Driftless, What keeps you here?
I was born and raised in Winona, MN where I still live today along with my partner, Luke! I love everything about this little town. There’s not too many places boarded by beautiful bluffs that stretch the length of the city on one side and then the Mississippi River stretching the boarder on the other side. We have a growing downtown area and two lakes right in the middle of the town for canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, ice fishing, and ice skating. Not to mention, we’re just right across the river from Wisconsin so there are rivers and bluffs we can enjoy there too! And I can’t fail to mention our awesome farmers market and support for local foods.

If you weren’t here running the business, what would you be doing instead?
I would probably be focused on a career in the mental health field or with people with disabilities. I have worked in that field since I was 18 and still do with my off-farm job. Besides farming, that line of work, though very challenging, is so fulfilling. I also was a life-style and weight-loss coach for awhile, which was also very challenging but very rewarding watching as people made positive changes for their health. 

How do you develop yourself outside of your work environment?
I love yoga and meditation. That’s my outlet especially during our busy season. I also have taken up wine-making and have been experimenting making wine from out berries from the farm. The wine is still fermenting so I’m just crossing my fingers that the finished product turns out well. And to go along with my mission of educating on food as medicine, I love being in the kitchen experimenting with foods and turning healthy ingredients into delicious dishes.

What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?
I love going to Elmaro vineyard for yoga and wine (two of my favorite things)! I grew up being on the water a lot. We would fish, tube, and water ski so the river and many lakes in Minnesota hold a special place in my heart. I could be out on the Mississippi backwaters or Trempealeau river in the canoe or sitting in the front of my sister and brother-in-law’s fishing boat cruising down the river…when I’m on the water it doesn’t matter what’s going on in life, my mind is clear.

What are some of your favorite (non commercial) places to eat here in the Driftless?
Blue Heron…they never cut corners which is evident through the flavor and freshness of the food. Forager Brewery for their delicious brews and food. Other favorites include The Grill at Signatures, Birchwood Café, The Boat House (which is right on the river and super good food) and Elmaro Vineyard. There’s also a place that just moved to Winona called Nosh that I’m eager to try. They focus on farm to table dishes and support the small, local food producers. And when you need to indulge in a good pizza, Rocco’s is the place to go while here!

What is the most courageous thing you have done in your life?
Luke and I were very good students in school and therefore, were very encouraged to pursue as much formal education as we could. There’s a mentality in our society that your success in life is proportional to the amount of education you have or the prestige of your career. I think the most courageous thing I did was turn down a very “prestigious” education opportunity to get a Master’s degree and PhD in Epidemiology at UW-Madison. I did a lot of soul searching to realize what I actually wanted versus what others wanted for me and I turned down that opportunity to instead dive into informal education on food as medicine and nutraceuticals. This was the best decision I made as that eventually led me to Blue Fruit Farm. The lifestyle that Luke and I are creating is exactly what we want. Had I chased the formal education and prestigious career, I would have found myself in a situation where my personal values conflicted with my career. Now I know my personal values and my career align perfectly!

If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … what would you tell them?
I would tell them to go hiking with me, then to go to a craft-brewery or distiller and have a drink (or a few)! Then the following day, we could go out on the river for a lazy day lying on the beach and swimming, or for a more scenic trip down the Trempealeau River in our canoe. Then we could go out to eat at The Boat House, stroll along the river or through the downtown area to follow up dinner with some live music and a drink at Ed’s No Name bar. We would also definitely have to do some tubing (AKA floating) down the Root River near Rushford because you need an afternoon of that when you’re in the area.

About Blue Fruit Farm

Located in beautiful southeastern Minnesota, Blue Fruit Farm covers 5 acres of certified organic aronia berries, black currants, blueberries, cherry plums, elderberries, honeyberries, juneberries, and plums. Our farm overlooks a stunning microclimate known as Wiscoy Valley, surrounded by forest and native prairie. It allows our plants to benefit from the bountiful population of busy pollinators.

The farm was founded by Jim Riddle and Joyce Ford who have been leaders in the Organic food system for decades. Katie Lange has been with Blue Fruit Farm since 2018 and has taken over as Farm Operator with plans to take over as Owner as Jim and Joyce retire.

Because we have overhead netting for bird protection and hand harvest, our fruits can ripen naturally to full flavor. We collect rainwater for irrigation and use solar power to run the irrigation system. We are exceptionally proud of our Fertility Practices and Food Safety Guidelines. 

We sell fresh and frozen fruit in minimum orders of 5 lbs. We also make limited amounts of jams and juices from our fruits. Keep Up With Our Farm by entering your info below, SHOP online, or join us for U-Pick Blueberries and Blue Fruit Fest!