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Country Bumpkin gives Alice lessons in blueberry growing

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Wisconsin's Alice in Dairyland Ashley Huibregtse is promoting Wisconsin berries this month and July 8 visited Country Bumpkin off Highway P in Delton to learn about berry production. It was the

third berry farm she visited this year in her preparations to promote the products at her public appearances like that at the Wisconsin State Fair in August.

 The woman who holds the title of Alice in Dairyland is an advocate for Wisconsin agriculture, a $51.5 billion industry according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Local growers Cindy and Charlie Rhinehart, Country Bumpkin owners for 12 years, say they've had a successful year so far growing their berries on some of the 20 acres they have dedicated to food production. Huibregtse, raised on a Plymouth dairy farm, interviewed the Rhineharts to learn about a different area of agriculture. The couple grows several varieties of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries at their farm where the public is welcome to pick their own berries.

The farm drew about 150 people a day last year. Charlie said half of their visitors are tourists. But Cindy added their business is also supported by summer residents.

They have an irrigation system to water their berries and their own bee colony.

The strawberries are ripe for picking now. An acre there produces 7,000 pounds of them, but the Rhineharts also produce tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, sunflowers and pumpkins.

Huibregtse visited other farms in the state, including Orchard Country Market and Winery in Door County and Hazeltine Farms in Janesville. She's named her objective the Wisconsin Cherries and Berries Campaign.

"During the month of July I'll encourage people to go to a local farm, orchard or market to buy a Wisconsin product and fresh berries and cherries because of the great nutritional benefits and also because of the need to support the local economy and the farmers," she said.

She's a proponent of visiting Wisconsin farms for produce.

"Our local farms that allow people to come and learn about where their food comes from, have a chance to experience it, are thriving. It's a good year for it, and it's a great year for people to know that even if a fresh crop isn't doing as strongly like cherries that you can still go and buy the cherry products, like tour a winery and sample the wine or have a chance to see cherry salsa or popcorn or dried cherries. So this is a great year for people to still go out to a farm and learn about it and sample some of the great tastes," she said.

Huibregtse spoke of her experience at Country Bumpkin and the other berry farms.

"Going to the different farms is a great chance for me to learn about how you produce them, how it's an intensive hand growing process, where it takes a lot of labor to get a strawberry plant from when you plant it until when you're picking the strawberries. It's a good chance for me coming from a dairy farm to learn about diverse areas of agriculture," she said.

The berries, are healthy too, because of their antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, she added.

Huibregtse, the 61st Alice in Dairyland, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in elementary education and communications.

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