It's blueberry season in the Lower Mainland, This group of berries is typical of the crop at Doris and Harold Lougheed's U-pick at 19000 River Road in Richmond. Jeff Lee photo.

That not-so-secret award-generating U-pick blueberry farm is open

I have a secret blueberry patch that I frequent out on River Road in Richmond. It’s not one of those great swaths of blueberry bushes that spread into the distance. It isn’t even a very busy place, sandwiched among cranberry fields and the Fraser River.

But the Lougheed’s little U-pick yard at 19000 River Road has all the things that say sunshine and sweetness and relaxation.

It is a far cry from those commercial yards that spread across Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and points east that are now busily being picked by the hands of farm workers.

Instead, the Lougheed’s little yard is the kind of place you go for a leisurely few hours, armed with a bucket, a sandwich and a determination to relax and capture a little bit of summer.

The Lougheed’s 1.5 acres is populated with mostly old Bluecrop bushes that are bowed nearly to the ground with fruit.

We’ve pollinated this U-Pick farm for the last couple of years, and love the experience. Doris and Harold are fastidious about how they care for their 1,500 bushes, and they use no pesticides. Every weekend we find them out there mowing their acreage and trimming back the grass around the bushes without the aid of chemicals such as Roundup.

The result is a phenomenal crop of the tastiest berries we’ve ever had.

Our hives, sitting in the Lougheed's ripe blueberry field. We left them there to collect nectar from nearby blackberry bushes. Jeff Lee photo.

Our hives, sitting in the Lougheed’s ripe blueberry field. We left them there to collect nectar from nearby blackberry bushes. Jeff Lee photo.

I don’t think they make a ton of money off this operation; just enough to add to their retirement incomes and to assure their place is regarded as a farm under provincial rules. It is certainly that, given the effort they put into their operation.

The bonus is that the honey we collected there last year won first place in the B.C.Honey Producers Association honey contest. You can expect we’ll enter this year’s crop in this fall’s BCHPA contest, which will be held in October in Richmond.

The irony of this field of bushes is that many years ago it lived across the road at Roger and Annet Henniger’s place. Once, when they had other plans for their field, they offered the bushes to their neighbours, and so the Lougheeds spent days dutifully digging up each and every one of the plants and trundling them back home. Today those are the biggest, most productive blueberry bushes I’ve ever seen.

A trip to the Lougheed’s blueberry field is not just an outing to pick the best berries you’ll find. It’s also a bit of a restorative drive along River Road, where we often stop to watch the tugs and barges navigating up and down the North Arm of the Fraser River.  There are a number of shady picnic spots along the river, and it is peaceful to sometimes park and just listen to the relative quiet descend upon our ears.

The other thing I like about the Lougheed’s operation is the “honesty box” method of payment. Although the two of them can often be found sitting on the back deck with an old scale, clip board and cash box, they also have an unabiding faith in peoples’ honesty.

That’s why, when they are not home, they leave the scale out and ask people to weigh their own pickings and then put the money into  a secure money mail slot.

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The Lougheeds’ Bluecrop field isn’t in the same league as commercial blueberry growers in the Lower Mainland who are finding prices offered by packers are going through the floor.

Happy will be those growers who have planted varieties that will hold their market value. Unhappy will be the rest, those who have an abundance of Duke and Bluecrop who are finding that prices have plummeted as packing houses are being choosy about the quality they accept in light of a bumper crop. There’s an interesting story in Business in Vancouver that illustrates that point.

The other week I watched as a packer, who has his own fields of Chandlers and later varieties, apologetically told a small grower of Dukes that he couldn’t take any more because there’s just no market. He could take one more load at $1 a pound, but that was it, he said.

The packer told me later that the problem is that many of B.C.’s growers – particularly new farmers – have put in a lot of Dukes and Bluecrops, all of which mature just about the time berries are coming on stream across North America. From Ontario to Maine and elsewhere, such crops end up serving only the local domestic market. As a result, all those berries now ripe in B.C. either have to be juiced or frozen if they can’t be sold locally.

My packer said that’s why he believes the best option for growers who can afford it is to rip out a portion of their early berry bushes and replant them with late-ripening varieties.

Words of wisdom, but hard to hear if you have a mortgage and a bank on your back.

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