Ivan Hildt remembers how it was during the Depression, sitting in the shade of a tree on a hot summer day in Evanston, Wyo., waiting to see if the local grocer would sell the one case of berries he had taken on consignment. Ivan and his dad couldn't go home until they sold the whole load. It wouldn't do any good to take them home to Garden City. They would spoil in a day without refrigeration. This was high-risk peddling.
Ivan also remembers washing bottles. People would bring quart bottles to pick directly into (they don't mash so much that way). The Hildts would wash the bottles, pack them full, provide and put in the sugar, coldpack and deliver full, sealed bottles back to the customer for 10 cents a quart.Raising raspberries has always been a struggle - and a risk. When I ask him if it looked like a good season this year, Ivan was guarded in his response:
"Raising berries is a bigger gamble than Las Vegas. It looks good now, but if a hailstorm comes tomorrow, we lose everything."
And all the while we talk, full crates of raspberries are being unloaded from the truck into the walk-in cooler at the rear of the fruit stand. The run has just begun, and from all over, people are beginning to come to Bear Lake to buy berries from Ivan, or his nephew Orlo Price (the two families just barely split operations this season after more than 50 years together), or any number of small growers in the valley.
The soil, the cool nights, the morning dew, the elevation all combine to make these berries especially fine and flavorful. People plan vacations to coincide with the berry season. In the half-hour I sat in the shade of the huge pine next to the stand, besides a constant stream of regular customers, there was a family from France, a German threesome and a couple from Greece. The Greek couple said people all over the Northwest had told them to be sure to stop and get some Bear Lake raspberries.
Ivan's son, Ted, and his wife, Trish, have taken over Ivan's portion of the Hildt Berry Farm. Even though Ivan likes to think of himself as retired, I observed that he was as impassioned about the crop as he ever was, every year since he was a boy pruning and picking for his father together with his brother LaVoy. It's in the blood.
After a few weeks, the run will be over, and Ted and Trish will add up the receipts for the season. It is an anxious and exciting time for them, the beginning of a new business - the continuance of an old one. There is something special about the passing of a business from father to son. Something that should make a father proud.
When I expressed this thought to Ivan, he didn't exactly beam. Immediately, I realized why. It isn't that he isn't proud, but that he is concerned. He has a long memory of the struggles of being a berry farmer. The long hours watering all night, the bugs that attack the plants, the constant replanting of new plants as old ones die, the bad years when you tighten your belt and eat less.
But that's natural, too. All parents know the feeling of worry for grown kids going into business or taking a new job. You want to be in control and protect, but you have to back off and let them find their own way.
Welcome to the club.