It’s almost too much to bear.
Thousands of blueberries glitter jewel-like in the sun. Just seven pairs of hands reach into the foliage, clasp the fruit and listen to it rain down into their buckets.
The Clallam Gleaners arrived at Blueberry Haven last week ready to harvest, but some might not have been fully prepared for the task before them.
Lots of these bushes are “still loaded, even after you guys have picked 350 pounds,” said Gary Heaton, who with his wife Deborah owns the Haven. Their farm, off state Highway 112 in Joyce, had been a Clallam Gleaners destination three times already; on the fourth glean last week, the volunteers picked another 136 pounds.
These pickers come from as far away as Port Townsend to harvest some for their own kitchens, yes, but mostly the boxfuls go to local food pantries. All summer long, the Port Angeles, Sequim and Elwha Klallam tribal food banks have been sharing the abundance.
This is the Heatons’ 21st season as owners of Blueberry Haven, and “by far our best,” Gary said. It was those long stretches of long, dry days that made the difference.
“Gary has been really generous,” Sharah Truett, coordinator of WSU Extension-Clallam County’s gleaning program, said of the farmer. He moved to far northwestern Washington from Enid, Okla., in 1999, and has become a supporter of gleaning, food banks — and of sampling while picking.
“We have eight varieties … and 800 bushes,” Gary said. Blueberry Haven is also open for you-pick by appointment: call 360-928-0257 for a visit between 10 a.m. and dusk. The cost is $2 per pound, and Gary expects the picking to be good for another few weeks.
Sixty miles away in Chimacum, Finnriver Farms has had a different blueberry season. In this valley it rained a lot, including precipitation in July and August — unusual, said co-owner Janet Aubin. So the 2019 yield is about like last year: just under 9 tons.
Finnriver fruit fans out across the Puget Sound region, to numerous farmers’ markets and grocery stores. And earlier this summer, farm staff members gleaned some to donate to the Jefferson County Community Wellness Project, which works to put local produce in local schools.
The Chimacum blueberry operation has a you-pick club, Aubin said, that couldn’t quite keep up with the public’s thirst. So Finnriver planted a second blueberry field in order to expand its you-pick horizon. Those bushes, she added, won’t be mature enough for picking for two or three more years.
Meantime, petite boxes of Finnriver blueberries were selling last week for $5.50 at the Port Townsend Farmers Market.
On the gleaning scene in both Clallam and Jefferson counties, we’re moving into thickets of apple and pears.
Jefferson’s Quimper Community Harvest program, which sends volunteers out to pick organic fruit for a couple of hours Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, has seen a rich season so far.
More than 3,300 pounds have been gleaned for food banks and seniors’ programs, coordinator Seth Rolland noted. To join the gleaners, email [email protected], and for information about all aspects of the program, see the website of Port Townsend’s sustainability organization, Local 20/20, at l2020.org.
Clallam’s volunteer harvest crew also anticipates a fruitful fall; it could border on too much of a good thing. Truett said WSU Extension is developing a community meal program to use the torrent of apples.
She’d like to see more variety in what volunteers glean. Local food banks can use more vegetables, while other fruit such as figs, grapes and berries would be sweet.
“I keep hoping to get a pumpkin glean after Halloween,” Truett added, so “people could make their pies, soups, delicious stews.”
Truett emphasized too that Clallam Gleaners is a volunteer program with great flexibility. While she coordinates group gleans such as the ones at Blueberry Haven, individuals also go out on their own.
Truett first gets permission from the farmer or gardener and then provides pertinent information to the gleaners via her email list. Farmers, gardeners and would-be gleaners can reach Truett via 360-565-2619 and [email protected]
“We ask people to donate half of what they pick,” she said, “and we let them donate where they see fit: to a food bank, a senior center, the Boys & Girls Clubs, their church or a school.”
The other portion can go home with the volunteer for eating, saucing, freezing, drying or canning.
With this endeavor, Truett said, timing is everything.
“Getting a volunteer to the farm when the crop is not too green and not too ripe — that’s hard,” she said.
The great ripening of fall fruit is just about upon us. Much like a thunderstorm, “it all comes at once.”