Blueberries have grown on the site of Friendly Grove Blueberry Farm for over 70 years. The protection of the Henderson Watershed has created the ideal conditions for the blueberry bushes to flourish in the acidic peat bog. Five varieties of blueberries grow at this rustic u-pick blueberry farm just a few miles from the bustle of downtown Olympia.
“It is peak season,” Karen tells me. She shows a young picker how to hang the bright blue bucket around his neck leaving both hands free for faster picking. “Pull the branches down from above and reach in the middle. The branches are flexible!” She assures the pickers as they begin to arrive. Some are here to gather enough blueberries for an afternoon pie while others are on a return trip to pick their goal of 100 pounds of blueberries to last all year.
Her love of the farm and its lifestyle is obvious from the moment we first spoke. Karen graduated from The Evergreen State College after studying Natural Sciences and Humanities. She always knew that she wanted to farm. “My desire to eat healthy and a love of the outdoors connected me with farming,” Karen explains.
She worked at Independence Valley Farm before she purchased her own farm in 2005. Karen is the third owner of the farm. The original owners were two physicians who purchased it as a “hobby farm.” Harold Viola Fischer purchased it in 1957 and when he passed away his family sold the farm to Karen.
While she would love to be a full-time farmer, there is not enough money in blueberries. Karen works full-time in her job as a social worker for DSHS in Home and Community Services. The farm is staffed by volunteers during the week and requires most of Karen’s free time on the weekends. Fortunately it is a labor of love.
“Ideally they should be pruned by one third each year,” explains Karen. The pruning process is a balance between cutting the older canes that no longer produce and encouraging the new tender shoots. “The pruning is kind of a dance between the old and the new,” she tells me. Fortunately she has found volunteers who share her love of the blueberries and the farm to help with the never-ending pruning and mowing. Karen uses no pesticides or sprays, which means that some invasive plants such as Spirea Bog have also flourished in the nutrient rich environment. Pulling the invasive weed and mowing between the rows are a few of the requirements of caring for the bushes.
Karen would love to see more volunteers at the farm. There are so many opportunities for learning from the farm and the habitat that exits naturally within the Henderson Watershed. The farm provides the perfect natural habitat for pollinators. The abundant Mason bee, a small black bee that look like a fly is an even better pollinator than the honey bee. The farm is home to many types of insects, birds and six resident goats. Karen is currently hoping to begin working with a group called WOOFers, which brings volunteers to organic farms in over 100 countries in exchange for room and board.
The u-pick concept is not unique to Friendly Grove Farm but the passion that Karen brings to her patch of land in rural Thurston County certainly is. “I love the joy the farm brings people when the farm is humming with conversation,” explains Karen. She tears up when she tell me about generations of families coming to the farm to pick blueberries together. “There are children in backpacks and grandparents with their grandchildren nurturing relationships.”
Looking around the farm, I vow to return very soon with my own children even though they are no longer small enough to be lost among the rows.
Friendly Grove Blueberry Farm is open for u-pick Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and weekends from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.. Blueberries are $2.50/lb. for u-pick. For information about purchasing pre-picked berries by the pound call the farm at 360-528-0207.
Friendly Grove Blueberry Farm
3102 Friendly Grove Road NE
Olympia, WA 98506