Who can fill their bucket first? It is a common challenge in my family whenever we go blueberry picking at Black River Blues farm. It was fun to hear the Smith and Heywood families also play that game to keep their kids interested in picking. They have come from Hoquiam and Elma to pick for the last four or five summers. Stevey Smith likes to eat them fresh by the bowl full. Her cousin, Sawyer Heywood, has a good view from a stroller of his dad, Steve Heywood, picking and will likely be a bigger help next year.

Black River Blues farm is located just outside Rochester, off Moon Road, along the banks of the Black River. With the plentiful berries it is easy to come home with 15-20 pounds, especially if you have several sets of hands picking, including children with short attention spans.  That way you can have both fresh berries and some to freeze for year-round berry eating.

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Stevie Smith, Steve Heywood and Sawyer Heywood came from Hoquiam and Elma to get in on the first day of u-pick at the Black River Blues blueberry farm. Photo credit: Lauri Martin

Black River Blues u-pick berries sell for $2 per pound, the same price now for the last six or seven years. Compare that to $6 -7 a pint at the grocery store, and it is easy to see the value in picking your own. You can hardly call it work to fill a bucket. Each branch is weighted with berries that easily tumble into your bucket as you run your fingers over the stems. They open new rows often for u-pickers, so the picking is always easy and fun.

Like fresh tomatoes from the garden, these blueberries can have a surprising pop of flavor and variety of taste. Black River Blues has seven different varieties in their u-pick fields and many more they hand pick or machine harvest for sale.

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Rebecca Pitharoulis tends the Black River Blues farmstand where you check-in and wash-up. When finished she weighs your loot and will sell you other fresh farm goods too. Photo credit: Lauri Martin

To look at the lush, low-growing rows, you would never guess that some of the bushes have been producing berries for 75 years. Nik and Rebecca Pitharoulis purchased the 102 acre farm in 2006, but the fields have been in production since 1942, planted by Hubert and Alberta Drew. According to the farmstand’s history display, Hubert is now recognized as a blueberry industry “pioneer,” who proved blueberries did not need to be grown in bogs. In 1953 Hubert became the first person to hold a U.S. patent for a blueberry plant.

“We have a variety for each taste bud and many uses,” says Rebecca. “We also have several heirloom varieties that still retain that wild blueberry taste.” The Rubel is one of those. It typically ripens in mid to late July.

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The Weymouth blueberry is the earliest ripening u-pick variety. Photo credit: Lauri Martin

If you pick all you can but still want more, they have hand-picked varieties ready to purchase as well as pre-packaged frozen berries. New this year to their farmstand, in response to customer request, they will be selling water, juice, snacks and some of their own produce, as well as eggs laid by their hens and raw honey from their pollinating bees.

The Pitharoulis’ farmstand and u-pick is open to people of all ages; however, pets are not allowed. “We get calls all the time from people asking if they can bring their dogs, but our GAP (Good Agricultural Practices through the USDA and WSDA) Certification requirements do not allow it, and we want to be considerate of other customers who might not be comfortable around dogs.” Of course, leaving your pet in the car while picking is also discouraged. No one wants an animal to suffer if left in a hot car, so leave your pets at home.

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Read more about the Black River Blue’s history in the display case at the farm stand. Photo credit: Lauri Martin

Have cash or your checkbook as card payment are not accepted. Other items you could bring: drinks to stay hydrated, sun protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses), good walking shoes and a snack or picnic if you like. There is a shaded picnic area next to the farmstand. The picking rows are only a short walk from the car, depending on which rows are open at the time. A couple wagons are available for borrowing to haul your berries back from the field if you are a very ambitious picker. They provide buckets for picking and give you a bag or box to take your berries home. “But it’s even better when you bring your own take-home containers if possible to reduce waste,” says Nik.

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The picking is easy at Black River Blues farm with rows of blueberry bushes loaded with berries. Photo credit: Lauri Martin

U-pick opened July 10 and will run for six to eight weeks, depending on the weather. “If we get a hot spell, berries will ripen faster and shorten the season,” says Nik.  Come mid to late August call or check the Black River Blues Facebook page or website for the season’s end date.

“We like to keep the stand open for eight weeks if we can,” Rebecca adds. The farm is open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.

As part of their GAP and GHP (Good Handling Practices through the USDA and WSDA) Certification, all pickers are required to wash their hands before entering the fields. Washing stations are provided near the check-in/weigh station and at the farm stand.

Black River Blues Blueberry Farm
17132 Moon Road SW
Rochester, WA 98579
360-273-3489
www.blackriverblues.com

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