They could buy these blueberries for a buck a pound more in town, but the eager pickers like them fresh and organic and like to do their picking early in the day, before the heat comes — and they like the ritual of being close to nature and helping local farmers succeed.
It’s become an annual homage for many, strapping on a plastic milk jug (top sawn off), bringing friends, leaving your worries in town and having a great time chatting it up, then heading home to make blueberry pancakes, muffins and smoothies.
Then you toss a bunch in the freezer for a blast of summer nutrition in the dead of winter, says Chuck Burr, owner of Restoration Seeds, a 10-acre organic farm at the foot of Old Siskiyou Highway.
“You can’t beat the price and I love supporting local farmers. Plus they are great anti-oxidants,” says Nicole Del Pizzo, who came with her daughter Rhi Ahimsa.
“It’s a lovely opportunity to pick delicious fruit with friends in the sunshine,” says Ahimsa. “We’re going to make blueberry pie and smoothies, then freeze the rest.”
Burr plants row after row of u-pick blueberries, selling them for $3.50 a pound. For 10 to 20 pounds, it’s $3. Over 20 pounds is $2.50 a pound. Blueberries in town vary between $3.60 and $4.25, he notes. Hours, in season, are 8 to 11 in the morning.
“It’s a fun social thing, a great chance to talk and laugh out of doors,” he says. “People do it for recreation. Mamacita brings the little ones with their sand pails and by the time they’re done and standing at the scales, the kids’ pails are empty.”
He laughs, “We should weigh the kids and then weigh them on the way out.”
Ahimsa’s pals, Robin Cross and Haley Baldwin — all recent graduates of Ashland High School — rapidly fill giant 10-gallon cans, having scant idea that those tiny berries, in large quantities,weigh a great deal and the tab can sail over the $100 mark.
“You’re taking fruit live from the plant,” says Cross, “and you just feel more connected. It’s wonderful to eat healthy fruit like this —- and grown locally.”
“I used to come pick when I was small and I’ve been waiting years to get back here,” says Baldwin. “It’s a very happy, positive, awesome feeling. They have a gorgeous color and they have no thorns, like blackberries do!”
Weighing out the berries, Burr notes, “We are all organic. If you wonder if berries are organic, just look at the grass under them. It will be brown from sprays.”
Burr says his peaches are at a peak of ripeness, ready to cut up for pies, on cereal or put in the freezer. Peaches in stores have to be picked when “hard as golf balls,” so they ripen during shipment, storage and waiting on shelves.
Alfredo Quispe of Ashland says he loves the berries with yogurt. He earlier picked peaches, which he dried and canned. Picking with Quispe, Nicole Graham says store berries are “ridiculously expensive,” not as fresh and may not help the local growers and economy.
“Life doesn’t get any better than this,” muses picker Phil Loveless. “You’ve got nature, healthy food and feeling good. I like to make them in French pastry. When the season has passed you can pull them out of the freezer, make pastry and remember this day.”
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.