Picking fresh produce is more than a fun way to spend a day in the South Sound — it’s a Northwest tradition for many families. And as more folks want to connect to places their food comes from, it can be a delicious lesson in agriculture, science, and most of all, community. There’s nothing like buying fresh produce directly from the family who spent months growing it.
However, the number of family-owned and -operated farms open to people to come and pick their own fruits and veggies has been dwindling for the past few decades thanks to land development, regulations, tough times, and trends. Not too long ago many people were less concerned about where their food came from and more concerned about convenience. Now that interest in farming and local food is on the upswing, many of these farms are gone or have changed the way they do business.
With the interest in local food, people are connecting with farmers thanks to more farmers markets, where fresh produce is brought directly to customers. And people are growing their own, participating in community garden projects, and getting produce delivered to their door or ready for pickup through Community Supported Agriculture programs.
But there are still some places that offer that fresh-from-the-farm experience. Like Linbo Berry Farm in Puyallup, which offers heirloom varieties dating back to the 1940s.
“We have people come out to our farm who came as kids, and now bring their kids and grandkids,” said Richard Linbo. At Linbo, classical music plays as guests with buckets roam the blueberry bushes looking for the plumpest berries every summer. “It’s a lost art. People are trying to get their kids back connected with their food — it’s just good to see kids eat good food.”
It’s fascinating to think that many of the farms in Pierce and Thurston counties have been around for decades — those same bushes producing berries for 60 or more years. Just think about it — children picking berries from the same bush their grandmothers picked berries from. And thanks to the warm days and cool nights of the Pacific Northwest, berries grown around here have a higher sugar content and are some of the sweetest (and make the best jam).
“We enjoyed (harvesting fresh food) when our kids were little,” said Jan Pigman of Pigman’s Organic Produce Patch in Olympia. “We feel like we are doing a community service. People really enjoy it. We want them to know that food comes from a farm, not a grocery store.” April through December Pigman’s offers organic fruits and veggies ripe for the picking, located in the lush and fertile Nisqually Valley.
Small farms can benefit from people picking their own produce because the food gets harvested — minus having to hire people. Some visitors come to pluck fruit to snack on. Others mean serious business and come to pick pounds of fruits and veggies for freezing, jam- making, and pie-baking.
Karen Crown of Friendly Grove Blueberry Farm in Olympia said she has one motivation for keeping her organic u-pick farm open — the people. “People come out here, and they really get chatting. The fields sound like a bunch of bees with the excitement and chatter. I heard one kid out here who looked at his parents and said, ‘If we lived here, we’d be in heaven!’”
U-Pick South Sound Guide
Several farms offer varieties of berries and more u-pick veggies. Make sure to call or check websites before you go, as Mother Nature dictates what is available, ripe, and ready to be picked.
Pigman’s Organic Produce Patch
10633 Steilacoom Road S.E., Olympia
One of the few organic strawberry and raspberry u-pick farms in Western Washington, Pigman’s offers berries in the summer and early autumn.
19102 S.E. Green Valley Road, Auburn
Passionate about the taste of its berries, Canter-Berry Farms offers eight varieties of highbush blueberries. The farm is pesticide-free and completely u-pick, encouraging visitors to experience the sweet, tart, and even spicy flavors that blueberries have to offer. If visitors get bored of berry-picking, the farm also owns seven horses, a beautiful u-pick flower field, and a barn store.
Linbo Berry Farm
1201 S. Fruitland Ave., Puyallup
For a unique berry-picking experience, Linbo Berry Farm offers blueberries with a side of classical music. Boasting more than 20 varieties of blueberries, Linbo is pesticide-free and uses an air-washing technique to clean the berries you pick! Along with a wide range of blueberries, the farm is great for bird watchers.
Charlotte’s Blueberry Park
7402 E. D St., Tacoma
A farm turned public project, Charlotte’s Blueberry Park is a volunteer-maintained blueberry field and picnic area in Tacoma. Free and open to the public, the park offers five varieties of blueberries and several thousand bushes, all maintained by Metro Parks Tacoma and its volunteers. The park is open summer through early fall as berries are available. Volunteers meet March through September, helping to trim and care for bushes and maintain native plant species in the area. The berries are pesticide-free.
Gile Blueberry Farm
3641 Gull Harbor Road, Olympia
Gile Blueberry Farm is a family-owned farm. It has almost 30 varieties of u-pick and prepicked blueberries per season and encourages pickers to taste the berries to find their perfect match. It has a duck pond, too!
Friendly Grove Blueberry Farm
3102 Friendly Grove N.E., Olympia
The farm is located just four miles from downtown Olympia and has been a u-pick farm since 1958. Owner Karen Crown strives to make the farm a social and food destination. The farm provides sun hats and buckets, and there are even a few goats to meet. Visitors should bring their own containers for collecting their harvest.
1820 12th Ave. S.E., Puyallup
Sidhu Farms offers blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Picha’s Berry Farms
6502 52nd St. E., Puyallup
This third-generation farm offers u-pick strawberries in early summer. You can find their strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries sold at farmstands and on menus around the area.
See a list of more u-pick farms in the area here.
Basic Picking Tips
- Always call or do a web search of the u-pick farm before you go. Berries and more often run out during the day and vary on availability throughout the season. Many farms have their own policies on weather, containers, and payment options.
- Be sure to pack a snack, water, and sunscreen, and bring clothing for heat or rain.
- Do not overfill buckets while picking, as the weight and pressure can ruin the more delicate berries.
- Berries should easily separate from the plant. If you have to pull hard, the fruit is not ripe.
- Avoid placing berries in direct sunlight for extended periods of time or putting them into closed containers immediately, as the heat will make them rot.
- Most u-pick farms avoid using pesticides, as they can harm pollinators, as well as humans. This means that berries may not come into contact with chemicals, but may contain bugs. Be sure to wash berries before eating.
- Do not wash berries until they are ready to be eaten, as washing can cause them to spoil quickly.
- To wash, place the batch of berries into a colander and rinse.
- Mix the berries around as you rinse, and be sure to remove all rotting or overripe berries.
- Remove all rotting or over-ripe berries before storing to avoid contaminating the whole batch.
- Freeze strawberries and raspberries by washing, removing the hulls, and placing in a bag, removing
as much air as possible.
- Freeze blueberries in an airtight container without washing to keep the skin from getting tough. Berries can easily be washed after freezing.
Tip: Freeze berries on a cookie sheet until they are almost frozen, then put them into bags or containers. This will make it so you can grab a handful of berries without having to unthaw the entire package all at once, since they will freeze individually.