People often think eating locally grown organic food is expensive. That can be true of some products, but there are nearly always ways to keep costs in line. For example, you can pick produce yourself and pay less. Many small farms in Whatcom County have u-pick operations.
Last week I saw in their newsletter that Half Acre Farm had Walla Walla onions available, so I decided to make a foraging trip to their vegetable patch. (“Walla Walla” in this case refers to a variety of onion, not where it is grown. In fact, what is now called the Walla Walla variety originally came from Italy.)
Half Acre Farm raises organic vegetables, and is located in the middle of Boxx Berry Farm (6211 Northwest Rd., Ferndale). Following signs, I drove slowly past the Boxx farm store out to the u-pick parking area. Dan and Hannah Coyne, Half Acre Farm owners, were both at the u-pick stand helping customers. A chalkboard listed available items and prices, so I told them what I wanted to pick.
I started with shelling peas. (Those are the kind of peas where you remove the peas from the pod before you eat them. Pods and peas can be eaten together with snow peas. Snap peas can be eaten either with or without pods.) Hannah handed me a plastic bucket to hold the peas and showed me where the shelling peas were located in their garden rows. When finished, I went to the stand to have them weighed. The cost was $2/lb.
Next she pointed me to the Walla Walla onions, and I yanked the ones I wanted out of the ground. They cost $.75 each.
Yukon Gold potatoes followed on my list. Hannah showed me how to pull up the whole plant and stick my hands into the incredibly soft and fine soil to find the potatoes hiding just under the surface and down to about eight inches. She asked me to try to find all the potatoes for each plant so none would be wasted. There was a bucket in the field for discarding potatoes that were too tiny or green. With my hands in the dirt, now I was really having fun! Cost was $1 per pound.
Finally, Dan gave me a knife to harvest a head of cauliflower. That was everything I needed. They added up the total I owed, and transferred everything into a plastic bag to take home.
Boxx Berry Farm also has a u-pick operation, so I headed for the raspberry parking lot–only $1.75/lb. for fresh picked raspberries (3 pound minimum). Again, the stand operator gave me what I needed–in this case, a bucket on a rope to hang around my neck so my hands were free for picking.
To help you save even more money, Boxx offers a Preferred Customer Card. Pick 20 pounds of one of their berry products–just once–and get the card good for a 10% discount on everything of theirs you pick for the rest of the year, no matter what quantity.
There’s something meditative about being in warm sunshine with sweet earth beneath your feet, the smell of raspberries in the air, and beautiful red berries peeking through the dark green leaves. A fellow picking a few rows over began singing songs for all of us. It was lovely! The only thing hard about picking raspberries is waiting until they’re weighed before eating them.
One trick to picking raspberries is to look low. Most people don’t look much below waist level, so even when a row has been picked over during the day you’ll nearly always find some big beauties on the lower branches. Also, raspberries are expert at hiding. Lift branches gently and look for berries under clusters of leaves. If berries are too ripe, they’ll fall off in your hand. You should have to tug just a little to pick a ripe berry. If you have to tug very hard, or if it’s not a solid red color, the berry isn’t ready.
When I got home, I froze about three quarters of the berries I’d picked. I put them on cookies sheets, separated so they wouldn’t stick together, then put the sheets in the freezer. Once frozen, I put them into freezer bags for long-term storage. This winter, those berries will be a real treat.
If you’d like to experience u-picking, here are some tips: Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Take gloves, if that matters to you. Follow the farmer’s guidelines for harvesting. Be respectful of the plants and other pickers. Remember that if the plants you pick from aren’t damaged, they may later provide a harvest for someone else.
The Walla Walla onions were beautiful so I took Half Acre Farm’s advice and made Stuffed Onions a part of this week’s menu:
- Grilled ground beef or bison burger (with leftover onion stuffing mixed in before cooking)
- Stuffed Onions
- Potato Salad (made with Locavore Mayonnaise)
A classic summertime menu, the local foods way.