While it may have felt like strawberries and raspberries were gone as soon as they were available this year, local blueberry growers want you to know there’s plenty of their fruit to go around.
“It’s the peak of the season right now,” said Wisten Aldrich, who owns Aldrich Berry Farm and Nursery in Mossyrock with her husband, Glenn. “We probably have another five weeks so there’s plenty of time to get out to the local places with berries.”
This is a good year for blueberries, said Jeff Bennight, owner of Bunker Creek Berry Patch in Adna. The 5-acre blueberry farm has offered berries for about six years now and Bennight said this is the best crop they’ve had yet. They opened to the public about two weeks ago and expect to have at least a few more weeks of availability before they’re gone. Bennight said they have seen a lot of families come by, many looking for summer fun that’s still safe and blueberry picking fits the bill, he said.
“With our u-pick, it’s pretty easy to work with good practices,” Bennight said. “We’re outside and it’s easy to social distance because there’s plenty of space.”
At Black River Blues in Rochester, the other local berry farm offering a u-pick option, handwashing stations have been added and picking buckets are sanitized between users and lined with a plastic bag for an added layer of protection.
Owner Nik Pitharoulis, who has been offering u-pick at the 83-year-old farm since 2006, said since they are a large farm, social distancing is easy.
And there are so many benefits to bringing the family to the farm besides the reward of fresh berries, he said.
“I just think it’s a good, community thing, especially when they bring the kids,” Pitharoulis said, about what he enjoys about offering customers the chance to pick their own blueberries. “It’s first-hand experience. The kids get to see the bushes and understand that berries don’t just come from supermarket clamshells.”
Customers should be prepared for things to be a little different at their local blueberry farm this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Agricultural businesses were among those deemed essential, even during shut-downs, so their operations continued.
But screening, social distancing and sanitizing measures affected them in much the same way they have every other sector.
At Pan-American Blueberry Growers in Mossyrock, their farmstand has been open for a few weeks, offering fresh-picked berries as well as blueberry products such as frozen pies and honey and gift items. Heather Edgar of Pan-American Blueberry Growers said customers will notice Plexiglas added to provide more distancing between workers and customers.
Pan-American employees are required to wear masks and to sanitize between each customer and masks are required of all customers as well.
“A lot of people come and in and see our mandatory mask signs and they’re very happy about it,” Edgar said. “That makes us feel good.”
Across Highway 12 at Aldrich Berry Farm and Nursery, Aldrich said they have also stepped up sanitation, social distancing and masking as required by the state.
She said they previously would allow customers to watch their berry sorting machine from fairly close up as long as they didn’t touch it, but now have added Plexiglas to make “customer” and “employee” sides of the building. They also created a separate entrance and exit as well as adding directional arrows on the floors.
“It’s a huge barn so it’s like being outside and you can easily social distance,” Aldrich said. “And people have been really courteous, generally. If sometime is in the barn shopping, most people will wait outside until they are done.”
Blueberries in Southwest Washington
Aldrich Berry Farm and Nursery
190 Aldrich Road, Mossyrock
Farmstand open 7:30-4 p.m. during blueberry season. No u-pick.
Black River Blues
17132 Moon Road SW, Rochester
@BlackRiverBluesBlueberryFarm on Facebook
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily for u-pick and farm stand. Picked berries and honey available at farm stand. Cash or check only.
Bunker Creek Berry Patch
214 Bunker Creek Rd., Chehalis
@BunkerCreekBerryPatch on Facebook
U-pick open by appointment Monday through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Picked berries and honey from Dan Maughan also available for purchase at farm stand.
Pan-American Blueberry Growers
212 Klickitat Creek Rd., Mossyrock
Pbgblues.com or @PBGMossyrock on Facebook
Picked blueberries and blueberry inspired items available at farm stand 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. No u-pick.
All farms offer berries on a first-come, first-served basis so calling ahead to confirm openings and availability are always recommended