When Knaus Berry Farm closes each year for the summer, the family puts up a sign that says it will reopen in November, God willing.
This year's reopening will be made bittersweet with the passing of cofounder Ray Edward Knaus. Ray, who started the farm with his brother more than a half-century ago, died at the age of 85 this past August 28 in the Redland. The family posted the following statement on the farm's Facebook page:
Ray's history goes back to 1956, when he and brother Russell sold berries from a small roadside stand not far from where the current Knaus Berry Farm sits today. They expanded to baked goods when a fruit broker tasted Ray's wife Barbara's cookies and told her they were good enough to sell. Those cookies led to an entire bakery selling traditional breads, key lime pie, and angel food cake. But it's the shop's cinnamon rolls that put the farm on the map. Each day, carloads of tourists and locals make the trek to South Miami-Dade's farm country, with people standing in line for more than an hour on a Saturday morning for the warm, fragrant treats and a strawberry shake (the farm is closed Sundays).
Although the business is now run by Ray and Barbara's children, the elder statesman could still be seen most crisp fall mornings, sitting quietly near the produce section or watching families pick strawberries. Robert Burr, director of the Rum Renaissance Festival and Rob's Redland Riot, which takes people on a historical journey through the area, has known Ray and the Knaus family all his life.
Burr, whose uncle Charles Raymond Burr started the area's other major strawberry stand, Burr's Berry Farm, says Ray's enterprise struck a chord in people that went way beyond fresh fruit and tasty breads. "He represents the last generation of pioneer farmers. The fact that he and his family managed to remain true to their roots over the years is amazing. You couldn't even take a picture of Ray; he was a quiet person who embraced a simpler lifestyle, and his kids have remained true to that."
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Burr says that in a world of increasing complexity, a trip to Knaus Berry Farm is like going back in time. "It's a little enclave of simple living, and that's the great attraction. The farm reminds people of those simple values that have everything to do with family. It's pretty amazing that in this crazy world around us, they have remained true to that ideal."
Ray's no-frills lifestyle was mainly attributed to his faith. The Knaus family are Dunkers, a German Baptist sect that believes in nonviolence and a separation from worldly and sinful pleasures. Burr remembers one time when he was a kid, his uncle Charlie and Ray discussing their businesses. "They were strawberry buddies and would talk about what they would plant and what the weather was like. Years ago, Charlie said to Ray that if he stayed open on Sunday, he would do a heck of a business. Ray just said things were so busy they take Sunday off. Of course, they would never work on a Sunday because of their beliefs. They never budged on their ideals."
Though Ray is gone, Burr says he doesn't expect to see major changes to the farm that is Ray's legacy. "I've known Ray's daughter Rachel for a long time. She confided to me that one day they're going to have to start taking credit cards, and they do finally have a website. There may be little changes, like printing business cards, but they remain true to their concept of simplicity.
"That's what stands in the end. That's what distinguishes Ray's family from everyone else. Knaus Berry Farm represents the simple pleasures in life."