RIVER FALLS -- A family-owned berry farm is configuring new ways to ensure consumers still have safe access to fresh, locally sourced berries this upcoming season.

Owned by the Zwald family, White Pine Berry Farm located northeast of River Falls will open in June as usual to the public for strawberry, raspberry and blueberry picking.

As an essential business operating during a time of pandemic, this year may look a little different than others for those who are returning for the traditional self-pick season.

Consumers and employees will be maintaining social distancing in the fields and the checkout lines.

“This year obviously with the concerns over coronavirus we’re looking at potentially moving to more of a flag system that we would either have employees move flags where people got done picking and they can start just beyond that flag and possibly picking every other row per day and then switching the next day,” farm manager Andrew Zwald said.

While people may have concerns over how to maintain social distancing during the U-pick season, there is a major benefit to participating in picking local produce yourself, Zwald said.

“If ever there was a time that a U-pick operation should be in operation it’s when you want to know where your food comes from and guarantee that it’s coming from a safe source,” Zwald added.

Because the season eliminates contact with multiple handlers between the farm and the family table, such as when berries come from California to the local grocery store, the chance of bringing home a contaminated container of food is lessened, according to Zwald.

“I think the studies show that coronavirus doesn’t survive on food the best, but think about the packaging and the handling. If you come and pick your own strawberries you’re the only one who’s touched that strawberry,” Zwald said.

Zwald added that participants won't be required to wear gloves for safety, but they are allowed to bring gloves if they wish .

The farm will offer curbside pick-up of pre-picked berries.

White Pine Berry Farm offers about six acres of strawberries and an acre each of blueberries and raspberries. which are usually maintained by a crew of up to 40 people during busy seasons.

This year the farm has helping hands from many high school and college students who have extra free time since school has been moved to online and social events have been canceled.

“As far as the farm, what we’ve done so far is just implemented some rules for the crew that’s working on the farm, like one person in the toolshed at a time. We’re walking out to the fields instead of hopping onto the Kabotas together,” Zwald said.

The farm also hosts events, though some early spring ones such as the barn dance and a family reunion have been postponed or canceled. It is still to be determined if White Pine Berry Farm will have summer strawberry shortcake socials.

Zwald said he hopes the farm’s fall events will still continue as planned while following any remaining or new guidelines to keep visitors safe.