From native berries in the hills to commercial strawberries and blueberries in the fields, Whatcom County is berry nirvana. For local families, that means berries are more than just a juicy treat. They’re also a delicious way to learn about farming, gardening and nature.
Many Whatcom County berry farmers offer u-pick and we-pick service, so parents can turn drives in the country into a fun and educational outing with their kids.
“U-picks with families are a fantastic way to get out to a farm,” says Beth Chisholm, coordinator of the Master Gardener and Community First Garden programs at WSU Whatcom County Extension.
Kids can ask farm managers and workers about how berries and other food grows. Youngsters also can learn self-control by not snacking too much on the berries, by treating the farm equipment with care and by not stomping on the vines, bushes and runners.
“These are perennial crops,” Chisholm says. “The farmer wants you to respect the plants.”
Commercial nurseries, farmers markets, plant sales and the display gardens at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale are additional places to learn about berries.
For health-minded parents concerned about pesticides in their children’s food, Sustainable Connections publishes an annual booklet that lists food producers in Whatcom and Skagit counties, including farmers who grow organic and no-spray berries.
Berries abound in local forests, parks and fields, and alongside roads and trails. Some, like blackberries, are safe and easy to recognize. Others require a good eye and some smarts about edible plants.
It’s wise to not eat berries growing by busy roads, due to the risk of weed-control spraying, auto pollutants and dust. And some berries can sicken people, or be toxic, even fatal, if eaten in large quantity. Guidebooks to edible berries and online references like Northern Bushcraft can help parents and kids stay safe.
“Know what you eat,” Chisholm says. “What might look interesting to us might be toxic.”
Parents need to remember that bears love berries, too. Families picking berries in bear country should know how to respond if a bear arrives.
Grow your own
Growing berries in your garden and yard, or on your deck or patio, teaches children how to care for plants that provide tasty rewards for people, birds and other critters.
Strawberries planted in May can produce fruit before summer’s end, but blueberries take longer to bear fruit, so planting a variety of those and other berries can provide a steady, varied supply of edibles.
Berries do best with some care and feeding, as well as netting to keep to birds away and protection from hungry deer. By ripening at different times, berries offer kids a good lesson in the timely tradeoff between work and reward.
“They’re a perennial crop,” Chisholm says. “If you take good care of it, they keep giving.”
Berry Dairy Days: June 14-16 in Burlington offers a parade, fireworks, music, crafts and strawberry treats. More: burlington-chamber.com/berry-dairy-days.
Northwest Raspberry Festival: July 19-20 in Lynden, features a basketball competition, car show, kids’ activities, and raspberry treats. More: lynden.org/northwest-raspberry-festival.
Food & Farm Finder: Annual booklet lists farms, food events and food businesses in Whatcom and Skagit counties. More: sustainableconnections.org/programs/food-farming, 360-647-7093.
Master Gardeners Program at WSU Whatcom County Extension: Experts offer free gardening advice 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays at 1000 N. Forest St. More: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-778-5808.
Northern Bushcraft: Information describes Northwest berries. More: northernbushcraft.com/berries.
PickYourOwn.org: U-pick farms in Whatcom and Skagit counties. More: pickyourown.org/WAwhatcomskagit.