If our area has a common signature in the summer, it’s a
berry fingerprint. Everywhere you go, every time you enter
a store or head out for the farmers market, bright,
cheery, sweet berries are there to greet you. In this issue,
we explore the farms and folks of our number one crop and
dive into a little history. So grab a handful of berries
Cloud Mountain Farm
It seems a shame to call Cloud Mountain a farm, because
it is that, but it is also so much more. It’s a full-service
non-profit farming center, complete with a nursery for
gardeners and landscapers, an education model for those
exploring farming as a career, and a community-builder,
with workshops and events throughout the year. Matthew
McDermott, Cloud Moutain’s farm production manager
ensures that every crop the farm produces is a good one.
That’s a harder job than it sounds, and it’s part of what makes
his job so rewarding. Admittedly, berries aren’t the primary
focus of Cloud Mountain, but they do include them in their
incubator program, which trains people in farming. People
who don’t have land to work yet come to Cloud Mountain to
learn techniques of management, cultivation, and harvesting.
The students provide a few local farms with labor as part
of their internship. They also have classroom instruction at
Cloud Mountain is 42 acres of locally grown goodness. The
two main fruit crops are tree fruits (their peaches are amazing)
and stone fruits like cherries (which they grow in tunnels).
“We have several innovative systems,” McDermott said.
“We have a half acre of certified organic strawberries and a
third of an acre of variety trials.” The strawberries that are
hand-picked go to markets and stores, and the rest are sold to
Mallard Ice Cream and local restaurants. McDermott’s
favorite berries to grow are strawberries, and Cloud
Mountain models how to get the most flavor out of
berries. “We work with Puget Crimson, Hood, and
Shuksan.” The new strawberries this year are Sweet
Annes. “McDermott plants June-bearing strawberries,
which come in a single crop, rather than staggering
over the summer.
As with all farmers, Cloud Mountain is facing the challenges
of global climate change. They do their part by being
as ecologically sound as possible. “We use ecologically
friendly practices by ensuring we’re certified organic.”
Another huge issue facing farming in our area, and with
berry farming in particular, is that of labor. Cloud Mountain
is staffed by interns and students, so the farm workers
are invested in education and farming. They pay a tuition,
but they get paid for the hours they work. McDermott also
pointed to the importance of making sure what they produce
is economically sound. “It is demanding to generate revenue
from production systems. We make sure that the crop makes
sense — is it viable on its own?” They also prepare people
through their education program to farm before they buy
land and start, ensuring those farmers are prepared for their
65% Percent of the U.S. red raspberries are produced in Whatcom County
Despite those challenges, farming is so rewarding. Fruit
brings with it value-added products like sauces, jams, jellies,
wine from grapes, and other products, making berry farming
in particular potentially profitable. Cloud Mountain is a great
place for those agrarians who want to farm to gain a foothold,
and a community resource for those who are already in the
field and want more information on successful organic
farming. With workshops, community events, and their
internship program, Cloud Mountain is a champion of
Cleaarian Berry Farm
Carol Allison grew up on a farm, and has lived on
a farm her entire life. She plans to retire from
farming soon, but given how happy her regular
customers are to see her at the farmers markets around the
area, she’ll likely still be greeting old friends and making new
ones. “It’s hard work,” she said. “But worth it. They just taste
so good, and everybody loves them.” Berries, she means.
Specifically, blueberries, Allison’s favorite crop. “Strawberries
probably taste the best, but they get rained on and turn to
mush.” Blueberries are hardier, easier to bring to market,
and hold their value through processing. Mostly, for Allison,
they’re just the best-tasting berry out there.
There are approximately 2,500 acres of blueberry production in Whatcom County.
Allison was raised on a dairy farm, though her father grew
raspberries as well. She liked raspberries, but blueberries
were her passion. Allison started her farm 35 years ago to
pay for retirement and help pay for her kids’ college educations.
Berry farming allowed her to keep her family close to
her while still making a living. And berry farming has a nice
schedule — months of tough labor, but, unlike dairy farming,
the season ends.
“It’s hard work. But worth it. They just taste so good, and everybody loves them.” – Carol Allison
As with a lot of single-crop farmers, Allison knows her
blues. She grows three varieties. Early Blue, Blue Ray, and
Blue Crop. She recommends folks grow the Blue Crop — they
produce the most berries and last longer than the Early Blues
or the Blue Rays. “The Early Blue is my favorite for flavor.”
She never tires of the taste of her favorite berry, and she
has passed along her love of blues to her children and grandchildren,
who are never far from her back door. Her favorite
dish is blueberry rhubarb crisp, and though we haven’t tried
it, we’re betting it is some of the best around.
“The real work is in preparing the plants and planting
them. Making sure they’re good, testing them. If you do all
that up-front, the berries will be good.”
Though we grow berries easily here in the Northwest, it
isn’t exactly an easy plant-harvest-profit cycle. There are
several challenges to growing a great crop. Allison cites labor
sourcing as the biggest challenge to her farming operation.
Though it is only an acre, her farm still requires quite a lot of
work to get all the blueberries picked. “My sons and I used to
hire out trimming and tending. I don’t know who is going to
take over, or what’s going to happen this year.” As with most
farmers, finding the next generation of farmers is roughgoing.
But with her family around her and her berries making
their annual appearance, it’s likely someone will gladly
step in, maybe even for a few blueberry rhubarb crisps.
Growing Washington includes the original Alm
Hill Farm, but that is not where the berries are as
Clayton Burrows will tell you. Burrows grew up in
farming as a kid in Colorado, and after getting a law degree,
decided to buy Alm Hill. Berries are his first love, and his
enthusiasm shows in the high quality of the tender, sweet
berries he and his staff provide to farmers markets and stores
all across our area.
The raspberry industry alone provides 6,000 seasonal jobs for the harvest.
“I grew up with the grain and corn of the Midwest. When
I came to the Northwest, I was introduced to berry culture.”
Part of what makes berry farming so satisfying for Burrows is
that the four main crops — strawberries, raspberries,
blueberries, and blackberries — are staggered throughout
the summer, so there is always a crop coming in.
Our climate is also ripe for berries. “We have a cold
season and a temperate climate that make it perfect for
berries.” Berries are also a great crop for farmers
who are interested in a variety of markets. “As a crop, they
really maintain their value — they are valuable fresh,
frozen, processed into syrups — they hold their value,
which is not true of most produce.”
“Whatcom has a great community of small-scale organic farmers. We’re doing a great job.” – Clayton Burrows
Berry farmers have a unique passion for their crops, partly
because they taste so darn good. “They are the ultimate fast
food. Everyone loves berries,” Burrows said. “They are our
best-selling items at farmers markets.” Growing Washington
participates in twenty farmers markets a week.
Growing Washington has 65 acres in Whatcom County
and 200 varieties of fruit, vegetables, greens, etc. ”We’re not a
huge farm, but that’s a pretty big scale for organic.” Burrows
loves the farming community in our area. “Whatcom has a
great community of small-scale organic farmers. We’re doing
a great job.”
But doing that great job is not without its challenges. One
challenge is the uncertainty of the future, both in terms of
climate, and in terms of legacy. Burrows grew up in farming
and came back to it, but not a lot of farming kids are
returning. “Where is the next generation of farmers
coming from? Kids want to go off to college.” Another
big uncertainty is climate change. Consequence of climate
change or not, berries peaked a month earlier than usual
this year, leaving farmers in a scramble to get crops
set up and ready for harvest.
Unstable weather patterns, lack of access to water, and other
complications make farming — an industry already plagued
by uncertainty — even less certain.
Despite those challenges, Burrows enjoys his work
immensely. He singles out his management as part of what
makes his farm such a success. He has nothing but the
greatest respect for farm laborers. “The entire food pyramid
rests on the shoulders of Latino farmers.” His respect
extends to his management staff, who treat the workers
with fairness and affection. “We welcome Community
to Community — working with these families is the most
rewarding part of my job. They touch my heart. They
[Latino farm workers] support our community more than
we do theirs.”
Farming organically with a strong sense of social justice,
and producing great berries — Burrows is satisfied with his
work. And so are his satisfied customers all over our corner
of the Northwest.
Immigrants Get the Job Done
We aren’t just a nation of immigrants
(though we are that), we are also a nation
that relies upon hard work and diligent
labor of immigrants. Farmer Clayton
Burrows and other local farmers work hard
to ensure foreign-born workers are treated
well and paid a good wage. But there are
cases where immigrants aren’t treated
well, and that is where Community to
Community and Families United for Justice
come in. They organize and protest on
behalf of workers receiving unfair wages,
substandard housing, and unsafe working
conditions. One of the keys to making
sure workers are treated well is in good
management — people invested in their
work on the farm as well as in the lives of
those working to bring food to the table.
As many of us recall, C2C protested the
opening of Whole Foods in Bellingham.
Driscoll’s berries, Sakuma Brothers, and
Haagen Dazs ice cream were on their list.
The charge? Plywood living quarters, poor
management, intimidation, low wages, and
more. They have managed to enter into an
agreement with Sakuma, and they have
successfully fought in court and won for
workers rights, but the battle for workers is
far from over.
We spend a lot of time worrying about
heirloom seeds, organic produce, and
sustainability. Social justice is another
piece of sustainability that we need to
consider — farmers are aging out of the
industry and their kids are heading
for college and professions that aren’t
necessarily ag-centered. The future of
farming will rest on how well we cultivate,
train, and appreciate the good people who
work so hard to bring us so much.
Generations Blueberry Farm
Tammy Payton’s opening season tradition started years ago when her grandfather, Archie Statema, ran the farm. She would pick a bowl of Bluecrop blueberries and bring them to him. He would taste the berries, and, if they were ripe and sweet enough, he’d say, “Okay, we can open now.” With Archie gone, Payton continues the tradition with her grandmother Gertrude Statema. At 90, Gertrude is still a part of the farm life. “Although she doesn’t get to do the work, she still loves to hear about it. I’ll call her and tell her how things are going.” Payton maintains some of the blueberry bushes that her grandmother planted when she first started farming. “They’re right in the spot where she planted them.”
Generations has cultivated a dedicated following of customers throughout the years, some of whom have watched Payton’s kids grow up. Payton has raised her children — Cory and Caylee Mills — to take over the farm. Cory is marrying soon, and ready to begin managing the farm. “The kids took turns at an early age learning how to manage the farm, learning money management, and business skills.” Payton’s goal is to keep the farm as much the way her grandparents had it, and Cory is likely to carry the tradition as well.
The calls from loyal customers start as early as June to find out when the berries will be ready. Payton takes early orders, and will have berries waiting for them when the farm is open. She plants and grows Bluecrop blueberries, which are hardier and sweeter than other varieties. With their economically sensitive low prices and open, friendly policy of letting customers pick wherever they want on the farm, Generations has garnered a reputation for being family-friendly, comfortable, and easygoing. Payton will point u-pick customers in the direction of the best berries. If folks want berries after hours, she accommodates them as best she can. “We’re not set on hours. People can call and come by.
We live here.”
Payton is proud of their legacy, and proud of the years her grandparents put into making the farm a success. Her family members aren’t the only ones who have been on the farm for generations. Payton grew up with the same family who picks for them. The same family has been with Payton’s farm since her grandfather ran it, which says a lot about the kindness and fairness with which they are treated. “I played with their kids — we were all around the same age when I was little. And now those kids are adults and picking for us as their parents retire.” The easygoing, light management style is an ethos at Generations, a style Payton inherited from her grandparents. “You should see it when grandma comes to the farm — all the pickers come and give her a hug — it’s not just a job, it became a relationship with the people who work here. They are really neat people.”
“Returning customers are so excited when we open.” – Tammy Payton
Splitting her time between dairy farming and the blueberry farm is a challenge for Payton. “I feed calves in the morning, work blueberries during the day, and return to the dairy to feed the calves in the evening.” For a decade, Payton has worked this demanding schedule, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It’s fun. Returning customers are so excited when we open.”
As with most berry farmers, Payton never tires of eating them. “I eat them when they first come in and they’re still green. I freeze them so I have them in the winter.” Last winter, her supply ran out in October. “I was so happy to see them this spring.” So if she’s a little grateful for the early season this year, no one can blame her. Her favorite recipe for berries is Gertrude’s blueberry delight. “She used to hand out recipes with the berries to all the customers. I still have them in her cookbook.”
Payton’s love for the farm is apparent in the kind way she speaks to her customers, in the way her farm workers return to her farm every year, and in the way her children stay on the farm. “This is not just a farm,” Payton said. “It’s my family. It’s so great to see my kids take over.” True to its name, Generations will be around for a long time to provide blueberries to another generation of Payton’s family, and to the extended family of farm workers and customers who faithfully return.
Wild Caught Salmonberries
We tend to think of the health benefits of berries as a new phenomenon, but the Salish Coast tribes have been using berries medicinally for centuries. Salmonberries were of particular use, as they are native to our area. As is true today, the berries were used in celebrations and festivals, and the bark and roots are used as an astringent consumed as a tea to treat dysentery. Differing tribes have different origin stories for salmonberries — some believe that Coyote placed the berry in the mouth of Salmon to create a better run, some believe that the color led the tribe to name the berry for salmon — but whatever the origin, these delicious treats are always worth seeking out.
Finding salmonberries in the wild can be tricky — they like culverts and rough slopes — but salmonberry canes can be found at specialty garden stores and landscaping supply stores. It is perennial, and fruits the second year after planting. Sweet-tart, the berries are similar to raspberries, but have their own unique characteristics. They range in color from yellow, to a salmon pink, to deep red and they happen to complement salmon very beautifully
Barb and Randy Kraght were both raised on dairy
farms, and they got into farming their own land 20
years ago. Randy had worked for Mayberry Farms as
an agronomist. He and Barb, who is a dental hygienist by
profession, started accumulating acreage. In 1996, they had
four acres and planted Hood and Shuksan strawberries. “That
first year it rained every day in May and we lost everything
we had invested. The whole crop rotted.” The horror of it left
Barb in tears and discouraged. But the next year, the berries
rallied, and Barbie’s Berries was back on track.
“We’re so lucky that you can just drive up to a farm and have fresh fruit.” – Barb Kraght
With their manager Julie VanderMuelen, the Kraghts
now farm more than their original four acres of raspberries,
blueberries, and blackberries. Thirty to forty people work the
farm, and they have several farm stands.
In their early years, the Kraghts sold mostly to canneries
and processors, but when the opportunity to buy a farm
stand on Front Street in Lynden came up, they took it. They
now have four locations.
“We started in strawberries,” Barb said. “And then people
asked for raspberries. So we got into raspberries. Then people
asked for blueberries, then blackberries — the business
grew and grew.” Their goal was to be in fresh market stores.
“Haggen was pushing local produce at the time, so we got in
there.” The hardest berries to grow, according to Barb,
are the best-tasting.
While the future of farming is often uncertain, Barb
has faith in the kids. The Kraghts raised their kids on the
farm, and their son has a passion for berry farming. He
works in California as a beekeeper, but he returns every
year for berry season.
Approximately 280 acres of strawberries are produced in Whatcom County every year.
Unlike the dairy farming of their youth, the Kraghts like
that berry farming allows them to take time off. “If you do
it right, not only is it profitable, you can take 2–3 months off
during the year and just enjoy life.” Barb is planning to retire
from her day job soon. “The most satisfying part for me is to
be able to provide a product that people just love from the
young to the old, families bring their kids out to pick. Old
folks are out there picking with them.”
Her favorite berry treat is blackberry cobbler. “I eat so
many fresh berries during the season, but in winter, I love a
blueberry cobbler. I sprinkle granola on top before baking it,
and that makes it crunchy.”
In Washington State, kids as young as 12 can pick with
permission, and Barb employs quite a few. “I hire local
families and kids.” The Kraghts have been farming so
long, they’ve watched kids grow up on their farm.
Barb is encouraged by how lucky we are to live in such a
great area. “There are places where the only fruit anyone sees
is in a grocery store. They don’t have berry farms in Arizona.
We’re so lucky that you can just drive up to a farm and have
fresh fruit.” We’re also lucky that farmers like the Kraghts
keep the industry going, despite ever-mounting odds.
Strawberry Fit for a Queen
Among berry enthusiasts, there are several
varieties within a type of berry that cause a
great deal of excitement. One legend among
all strawberries is the Marshall. James
Beard declared it was only one of two kinds
of strawberry his mother allowed into the
house. Discovered by Marshall F. Ewell in
1890 in Massachusetts, the Marshall found
a home in the Pacific Northwest — Orcas
Island, to be specific. The Marshall was
served to Queen Elizabeth II and King
George IV at a luncheon in Vancouver,
B.C. in 1939. Earlier this year, the Olga
Strawberry Council of Orcas celebrated the
historic Strawberry Building (see p. 17) and
the festival featured the famed Marshall
Strawberry. There was a series of lectures
and events, including an appearance from
artist Leah Gauthier of Maine, who exhibited
her artwork depicting the famed
Marshall. Gauthier portrays berries that
are nearing extinction and raises money to
continue their propagation. The Marshall’s
qualities include an intense fragility — it
decomposes only hours after picking — concentrated
sweetness, and intense boldness.
Though it has neared extinction, efforts to
rescue it have been successful.