On the last Saturday in June, the Olympia Farmers Market officially welcomed the summer season with their Berry Harvest Celebration. With expanded festivities, the market-wide event hosted a myriad of berry-themed activities including vendors, treats and educational opportunities. As summer is the time of the berry, this celebration at the Market was a means to commemorate the diversity of our local berry varieties, and the farmers who cultivate the plants.

Olympia Farmers Market Berry Harvest Celebration Strawberry Balloon
What was once the Strawberry Festival, the market updated the festival to encompass all berries. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

The Berry Harvest Celebration berry celebration is the longest running event at the Olympia Farmers Market. Known for decades as the Strawberry Festival, the Market expanded the scope of the summer berry event to “showcase the beautiful procession of local berry crops that farmers bring to Market in the summer” says Community Outreach Coordinator of Olympia Farmers Market, Ashley McBee. “In this way, the event better represents the breadth of the berry harvest in our region.”

A highlight of the Berry Harvest Celebration was the Market Berry Shortcake Fundraiser, with each ingredient sourced from Market vendors. The shortcake itself was created by San Francisco Street Bakery. The strawberry compote served on top, from Johnson Berry Farm. The whipped cream came from Tunawerth Creamery. Topping the shortcake was a chocolate and caramel drizzle from Blissful Wunders Confectionary. A berry crown comprised of strawberries and red and gold raspberries were from Spooner Berry Farms and Johnson Berry Farm.

Olympia Farmers Market Berry Harvest Celebration Strawberry Shortcake
All proceeds from the Market Berry Shortcake Fundraiser benefit the market’s Farm to Table Food Drive in the fall. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

“In a circle of giving, the Market Berry Shortcake is sourced from local farms and businesses, all proceeds are used to purchase food from Market vendors, and we partner with direct service organizations to deliver this nutritious, local food to families and individuals in need via the Market’s Farm to Table Holiday Food Drive,” says McBee.

A berry-themed story time in the market garden, hosted by the Timberland Regional Library. In addition to berries, the story time incorporated elements of music and movement, utilizing shakers and a ukulele.  Not restricted to just the Berry Harvest Celebration, Family Storytime at the Market, is a regular event at 11:00 a.m. every Saturday in the Market’s Garden.

Cultivating Education with Workshops

A new feature of the celebration, workshops from the Olympia Beekeepers Association, Thurston Conservation District, and market vendor, Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards gave guests an inside look at how berries affect our world. “This is our first-time doing workshops at the Market,” says McBee. “We wanted to create the opportunity for people to connect with berries in more ways than buying and eating them. Even though we really want folks to access and enjoy eating local berries. We also want them to think about how berries are a part of our lives and a part of our environment.”

Olympia Farmers Market Berry Harvest Celebration Olympia Beekeepers
The Olympia Beekeepers Association offered honey samples and a frame of live bees available for viewing. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

Included in the workshops were tips to identify local pollinators, and the importance bees play in growing food. The Thurston Conservation District’s workshop centered around ground soil, the importance of testing and best practices for healthy soil and plants. Renowned educator Michael Dolan, of Burnt Ridge Nursery, presented on growing a variety of berry crops in the Pacific Northwest.

Growing Long Time Vendors

Outside of the presentations, the Olympia Beekeepers Association also hosted a booth throughout the event with samples of local honey and a frame of live bees. The Thurston Conservation District collected ground soil samples. Visitors were able to drop off a sample of their yard’s soil, have it tested by the conservation district and receive a detailed report about the health of their soil.

Olympia Farmers Market Berry Harvest Celebration Burnt Ridge Nursery Booth
In addition to strawberries, Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchard has over 38 varieties of blueberry plants available. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

Workshop host and market vendor, Michael Dolan, owns Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchard, along with his wife Carolyn. Part of the market for over three decades, Burnt Ridge Nursery specializes in rare plants that produce edible nuts or fruits. In addition to the Olympia Farmers Market, Burnt Ridge is also a mail order nursery, shipping plants throughout the United States. The nursery’s selection includes native Pacific Northwest berries like huckleberries, red flowering currants and salmon berries, as well as cross breeds like Loganberries. Also available from Burnt Ridge are 38 types of blueberries.

“Why so many? Because there’s such diversity in blueberries,” explains Dolan. “Some are ripening now, and some won’t be ripe until the end of October. So, by having different varieties, you can extend your season. Some are evergreen, most are deciduous. Some are low bush. Some are ten feet. Some are pink-fruited. Some are as big as a quarter.”

A valuable resource at the Market, Dolan is a wealth of information about growing berry plants at home. Not just available during the Berry Harvest Celebration, Dolan and the plants of Burnt Ridge Nursery are a staple of the Market every weekend.

Olympia Farmers Market Berry Harvest Celebration Johnson Berry Farm
Johnson Berry Farm, a longtime vendor at the Olympia Farmers Market, offers 29 varieties of berry jam. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

With jars of spiced jam lining the Market tables, Johnson Berry Farm is another longtime vendor at the Olympia Farmers Market, making regular weekend appearances for over four decades. Co-owner of Johnson Berry Farm, Jim Johnson has been in the berry business at the market since he was nine-years-old. In addition to selling raspberries at the Berry Harvest Celebration, a popular attraction was their 29 different varieties of jam. Made from the berries at their farm, Johnson Berry Farm jam was available to sample for market visitors. “I love the market,” says Jim Johnson. “I always have a good time down here and there’s nice, friendly people.”

Always the last Saturday in June, mark your calendars for the next Berry Harvest Celebration on June 27, 2020!

To learn more about Market events and vendors, visit the Olympia Farmers Market website.

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