Occasionally, a person enters your life and leaves an indelible mark. Rarely does a person leave their mark on an entire industry. Dr. Bernadine Strik was one of these people. We were deeply saddened to learn of Bernadine’s passing. She was a friend to so many of us and has left the entire small fruit industry a rich legacy of research and learning.
Our Fall Creek® founder, Dave Brazelton, reminisced yesterday about several encounters and experiences he had with Bernadine. He first met her in the early nineties when Fall Creek® was having issues with the blueberry variety Bluecrop, which was not forming flower buds. Bernadine was early in her career as a production physiologist at Oregon State University, with some extension responsibilities. She came to Fall Creek® to assess the problem. She recommended a soil and leaf analysis and said she would work on the issue. A couple of weeks later, she came back with a diagnosis of boron deficiency and a fertilizer plan to address the issue. Dave shared what really struck him at that moment, “I was so impressed with Bernadine’s ability to intensively listen to us about the issue and then to formulate a plan to address the problem. This interaction was the start of a decades-long relationship and tremendous friendship.”
A few years later, Bernadine recognized the need for better information and instructions for blueberry growers to prune their plants. She suggested that a video might be the best way to teach blueberry growers best practices in pruning and asked Dave to demonstrate pruning in the video. He recounted how impressed he was by her organization and quick turnaround. They met a couple of weeks later and she had developed a full script and video production ideas. Even during filming, she kept the grower view in mind – what they needed to know and how to do it.
As her career developed, Bernadine led so much important research for the small fruit industry. Dave remembered one study on blueberry plant spacing. Growers were using many spacings but had no real data to back up their thinking. “Bernadine developed an extensive, multi-year proposal that put data behind what growers were thinking. She listened intently to the growers and structured a thoughtful and thorough, multi-year spacing trial. She was determined to get every ounce of data possible out of the research. That one project measured productivity per plant and acre, looked at berry quality, harvest timing costs, and more. Then, all that data went into an extensive economics model on cost/benefit,” remembers Dave. “In the process, she did all the pruning to ensure consistency throughout the study. During one year of pruning in this study, she was pregnant and near term. In true Bernadine fashion, never missing an opportunity to inject humor, she suggested that she should include a pruning modifier in the study as it took her longer to prune while pregnant!”
Throughout her brilliant career, Bernadine was fully committed to driving for accurate science, “to get it right.” Her research was well-designed and created to gather as much information as possible. She was recognized for her ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner, driving great science, and always filled with humor.
Bernadine did many research presentations to industry groups over the years. Whether she was presenting to a group of growers in Oregon or at an international conference, when she was speaking, the rooms were packed, and people were intently listening. Growers did not want to miss what Bernadine had to say. They knew they were going to learn something from her and that her content would help them become better growers.
Dr. Jon Umble, Fall Creek®’s Director of Growing, knew Bernadine for many years. “I first met Bernadine in the late 90s as she was on my committee when I was working on my master’s degree in strawberries. She made a huge impression on me as her program worked at such a high level with such integrity while still having fun, enjoying the work, and making time for her personal life,” says Jon. “Her work in grapes was instrumental also, of course, along with kiwi, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and other small fruits - doing research, extension, and teaching. She did love blueberries though.” Bernadine Strik made countless contributions across the small fruit industry around the world. So many in the industry knew Bernadine and had immense respect for her and the work she did.
Cort Brazelton, CoCEO of Fall Creek®, fully agreed with all these sentiments about Bernadine. Noting her forward-thinking, Cort added, "In the latter years of her career, Bernadine, along with her research team, identified compelling evidence that blueberry fields are a uniquely valuable carbon sink. She never stopped working to help move the industry forward. She will be sorely missed and has left a permanent mark in the blueberry world."
Many of us at Fall Creek® were fortunate to share a great relationship with Bernadine and recognize the immense impact she had on us and the entire industry. As Dave said, “She was world renowned — a giant in small fruits.” While we are all trying to accept that she is no longer with us, her mark on the industry will last for generations, and we are eternally grateful.
Thank you and rest in peace, Bernadine.