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Blueberry farmers finding success from superfood status

Kevaughn Steich, 9, reaches for a couple of ripe blueberries as he works to fill his bucket. Steich along with his twin sister Kevalee and their mother were picking berries for the first time during a visit last week to the Blueberry Blossom Farm on Fobes Road in Snohomish.

SNOHOMISH — One pop of juice after another, the blueberries from Blueberry Blossom Farm flood the mouth with flavors of rhubarb, red wine and pie.
Each berry is different, their flavors changing as they mature, and they draw equally diverse crowds of pickers. Wobbly toddlers and seniors bent with age gather at the farm to pluck plump specimens from heavy clusters.
Owner Sandy Baer is kind about tasting, only warning jokingly that she won’t send out a wheelbarrow to rescue visitors who overindulge. Berries that make it into buckets get weighed, paid for at $2 a pound, and carried home for fresh snacks, frozen treats, pancakes, sauces and of course pies. Washington blueberries aren’t just big at the Snohomish farm, they are in demand across the country and the ocean, as popular imports in Asia.
As the benefits of the low calorie fruit have become better known, their popularity has surged. A cup of blueberries is typically only 80 to 85 calories and contains antioxidants, fiber, vitamins C and K, and manganese.
Sales were up 38 percent for the past five years, making blueberries a $1.8 billion business according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Washington’s blueberry crop is the nation’s largest at an estimated 132 million pounds in 2017, up from 28.5 in 2007 according to the Washington State Department of Commerce.
More than half those berries are grown in the Northwest Washington counties of Snohomish, Whatcom and Skagit said Alan Schrieber, executive director of the Washington Blueberry Commission.
Countywide, production has been a few hundred thousand pounds per year, Schrieber said. And as the world’s largest grower, Golden Eagle farms, recently purchased land and planted, Schreiber said production this year will be much higher than ever before.
“There are about 1,700 acres of commercial farms in Snohomish County,” said Linda Neunzig, the county’s agriculture coordinator. She estimates there are another 100 acres of u-pick farms like Blueberry Blossom.
At Blueberry Blossom, though, every berry will fill local bellies. This is a pesticide-free U-pick farm and the season has just begun.
It’s 11 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the season here, and the sun’s warmth blankets the field, raising the scent of pine from the trees.
Some families visit the farm year after year. Preschool and homeschool groups come, too. For first timers, she gives them pointers simple enough for any city slicker, such as leaving the red and green berries alone as they’re not ripe.
“The best people come,” Baer said. “They are so considerate and friendly, just special people.”
Aina McCormick comes with her daughter and her grandchildren every year. Her husband, “Opa” to the kids, makes them blueberry pancakes with their harvest.
The pick is a tradition. For other visitors, like Sharon Cho of Los Angeles, who’s visiting her sister from Bothell, it’s a welcome change of scenery. “You really gotta drive” to see a farm in L.A., she said.
Sandy Baer owns this picturesque haven with her husband Dave. They had not farmed before, but the lot came with about 2,600 bushes.
That was 15 years ago, and after trips to the library to study every blueberry book and video they could find, they mastered the steep learning curve.
“He wanted to retire … but there’s no retirement with blueberries,” Baer said with a smile.
Baer’s granddaughter Cora McVey, 5, said she knows the farm better than anyone. She waves to visitors and stacks buckets when it’s her turn to help. When it’s not, she taste tests.
The Baer’s piece of the county’s berry picking pie is a small one, which suits them fine.
Blueberry Blossom Farm is at 8628 Fobes Road. They accept cash and checks. For picking hours, visit their website at www.blueberry



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