A handful of Skagit County farms are offering U-pick berries this season with COVID-19 modifications in place, while others are not opening their fields to the public but are providing other ways to buy berries.
Tulip Town, west of Mount Vernon, opened a strawberry U-pick on Friday, a first for the farm. The farm planted the berries late in the season to make up lost income amid the canceled Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, said co-owner Andrew Miller.
“We actually designed our U-pick experience for maximum flexibility,” he said. “We planted our rows about 4 feet apart and a couple hundred feet along. We have 17 rows segmented into picking zones.”
Visitors will be assigned picking zones to encourage physical distancing in the fields.
Miller said the farm expects ripe berries to last about a week. He said the strawberry variety the farm planted produces two harvests, with another batch expected to be ready for U-pick this fall.
“The upside of fresh strawberries in July is because it’s so warm they’re really sweet,” he said. “And it’s a great time to get outside and have something fun to do.”
At Cascadian Farm’s Home Farm between Rockport and Marblemount, raspberries and blueberries are ripe now for U-pick. Site director Ashley Minnerath said the farm is reminding visitors to follow public health guidelines such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing, and is providing hand-washing stations.
The farm asks visitors to use provided U-pick boxes instead of bringing their own containers, not to eat berries in the field, and to limit the number of guests per group, she said.
“We are opening up more space,” she said. “Usually we only open a few rows at a time, but at this time, we have a full acre open for (raspberries and blueberries).”
Schuh Farms west of Mount Vernon also has a U-pick open.
In Bow, Bow Bill Blueberries decided to cancel its U-pick season, and is instead offering bulk blueberries for sale. Customers can order 15-pound boxes of fresh blueberries and pick them up at the farm or at farmers markets in Anacortes, Everett or Seattle.
“In the end we felt it was safest to not (open U-Pick),” Bow Hill Blueberries co-owner Susan Soltes said. “It can be a crowd during U-pick. Our goal is to still offer fresh fruit.”
She said the U-pick typically accounts for about 20% of the farm’s harvest, and helps pay for workers to pick the rest of the fruit. She said the farm hopes to make up the lost income through bulk blueberry sales.
Soltes said ironically it’s a bumper blueberry crop this year, a product of the organic farm’s efforts to compost and build up soil quality over the past several years.
“It’s more (blueberries) than we’ve had before,” she said. “This could be our best year.”
The farm’s store remains open, and is offering physically distanced outdoor seating.