Little Falls man hopes popcorn brings in more ribbons

When Mike Bergren of Little Falls entered his popcorn at the Morrison County Fair 2016, he didn’t anticipate a first place honors.

His organic yellow hybrid popcorn won the best of show, grand champion and first premium.

This year, he plans to enter both white and yellow hybrid popcorn.

But the road to successfully growing popcorn hasn’t been easy. The first four or five years he struggled with growing good, sweet tasting corn, Bergren said.

“When I first started in 2005, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about growing corn,” he said.

It has been a journey for Mike Bergren to learn the art of growing tasty popcorn. It is a result that can often only be achieved through trial and error.

Bergren said it wasn’t until he spoke to a neighbor that he learned that in order to achieve sweet corn, the corn needed to be planted strategically.

“I found out that you have to have at least four rows of corn so it can cross pollinate,” Bergren said.

At first, Bergren planted some rows of corn in the garden near his house. The plants, that reach 8-11 feet in height, not only provided popcorn, but also gave him a tall privacy fence in the summertime.

In 2015, he started to plant additional corn on his dad, Ken Bergren’s, land in Little Falls. Between both locations, he plants about 400 corn plants each year.

Another challenge Bergren ran into, lay in how the corn was dried. It took many attempts to achieve the desired result.

“I tried drying it on the window sill, which wasn’t too bad. I tried drying it in the oven, tried dehydrating it,” Bergren said.

One day after returning from hunting, he just left some in the garage to dry. There was nothing spectacular about it and it didn’t take long for him to forget about it for a while.

“I didn’t think about it until December before Christmas 2010. They were playing a Christmas carol on TV that said something about ‘fresh corn for popping’ and that made me remember I had set some away,” he said.

He discovered that natural air drying was the best method to dry popcorn. How long it takes to dry usually depends on the method and the fall conditions, he said.

“I’ve been able to get popcorn to pop as early as late September, but typically it pops in the middle of October,” Bergren said.

The popcorn Bergren grows has since become a requested delicacy by family, friends and others. Some is given away and some is sold, he said.

Besides growing popcorn, Bergren grows a wide variety of vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, rhubarb and potatoes. Some will be entered at the Morrison County Fair, this year; Aug. 10-13.

Mike Bergren’s popcorn won best of show, grand champion and first premium at the Morrison County Fair in 2016.

Last year, Bergren received first place for his 19-inch long cucumber.

Bergren is not alone in his love for gardening. His children, Maci, 8, and Rilee, 5, also enjoy spending time in the garden and seeing it grow.

Maci entered some green beans, potatoes and an onion in the Morrison County Fair in 2016 and received both first and second places. She’s looking forward to this year’s Fair.

Bergren contributes his passion for gardening to his Grandpa Stanley Miller, who had a large garden, his dad, Ken and his mom, Doreen. Doreen passed away in 1990 from complications related to leukemia, when Bergren was only 11. Gardening is a sweet memory of her.

“She used to do a lot of canning,” Bergren said.

Canning is something Bergren isn’t a stranger to, either. A lot of the yield from the gardens is canned.

“It’s a lot of work, but so worth it,” Bergren said.