Much like the classic Blueberries for Sal (found on Amazon, and hopefully at your local library too), my family stores up blueberries for the winter – although not in jars, but in bags upon bags in the freezer. We use them in homemade yogurt all year round, and we just love them.
I even love picking blueberries, as the U-pick experience has been part of the fabric of our summers since my oldest son was tiny. It’s a wonderful tradition, good family time, and a chance to keep our kids connected to their food, build a hard work ethic, and have a little fun competition, too. “Who fills their bucket first?” It’s me, by the way. Every time.
When we started picking, I wasn’t prioritizing organic growing practices, just picking blueberries and saving money. We went to the farm a friend had been going to for years. We paid something like 85 cents a pound and couldn’t believe how much we got for so little.
It didn’t take many years before we had a bad picking experience at that particular blueberry farm (five pound in two hours? No thank you!) and sought out some blueberry picking backups in the rest of the greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area for when the berries weren’t so great at our primary U-pick spot.
We also had to pay $1.45/pound at the new spot. Ouch. But they told me they used grape Kool-Aid to keep birds or bugs away, and I was happy thinking that I had found a “more natural” blueberry farm.
Finding Organic Blueberries to Pick
Finally, two years ago, we were moving across town and I was beyond thrilled to discover Irvine Blueberries, where they grew organically but weren’t certified – my favorite kind of place because you get the best of both worlds, organic blueberries and lower prices ($2/lb.). There were plenty of bugs in our berry buckets, so I had no reason to doubt the organic growing practices!
And the Sad Summer of Fruit
Last year, which will always be the Sad Summer of Fruit in my mind, we had an awful early “spring” here in Michigan and then a frost, which killed a huge percentage of the cherries, peaches and apples in the state and seriously hampered blueberry picking as well. Irvine Blueberries didn’t even open for U-pick, so just a year after I’d discovered them, I was on the hunt again.
And I was back to square one in another way, too – I couldn’t even prioritize organic blueberries, because I called eleven farms and only found one that even had blueberries to pick! My goal simply had to be “U-pick blueberries in Grand Rapids” if I wanted berries for the winter.
Some of you will say we should have skipped the berries. That if we couldn’t source organic, we shouldn’t bother.
I’m not quite at that place in my journey, as we discussed last month with the strawberry controversy. We don’t eat 100% organic, and if I have a chance to stock my freezer with local food that we’ll love all winter, I do it. So we went to that one farm, picked a load of blueberries because somehow the picking was absolutely amazing (and they had a dozen different varieties, which we talked about in wonder for a week), and enjoyed them all winter long.
Seeking Organic Blueberries
This year, once I discovered that Irvine Blueberries closed for good (arg!), I was hopeful that I could find a farm with organic practices, or at least closer to organic than, “We follow the recommended times for spraying and picking…” which I’ve heard too many times.
That’s farmer code for, “We use plenty of pesticides and fungicides and don’t really think too much about it.”
We ended up picking at a middle-of-the-road “less pesticides but still more than I’d like” sort of farm, the same one we used last year.
We picked 44.5 pounds, and we’re darn proud of it!
People always ask what I do with all those blueberries, like are my meal plans filled with blueberry dishes for weeks? Although I could certainly search the KS group at Plan to Eat for real food blueberry recipes and meal plan them three times a day, I honestly don’t make a single thing with them. They get eaten, and frozen. Who needs to work harder than that! Blueberries are delicious as they are.
If you’re also seeking a good place to U-pick organic blueberries (or any fruit or vegetable, for that matter), I recommend getting on the phone and one the Internet.
The question to ask is something like this:
“I’m calling to learn about your growing practices, specifically how often you use pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers on your crop, and what kind if you know.”
From my experience, you can categorize the answers into three categories:
- Standard Conventional Farming: Mentions of “the standard stuff” and sprayed by airplanes or tractors, without the use of some of the good phrases below is a bad sign. Same with, “We don’t really know, but it’s perfectly safe.”
Many will say, “It’s impossible to grow blueberries (or insert your fruit here) without chemicals in this area.” They’ll all tell you that they wait the required amount of time before letting anyone into the patch. If my gut says they’re not cognizant at all about what they spray on their crops, I don’t really want to pick there.
- Better Than Some: I like to hear phrases like, “We spray as little as possible,” and “We use integrated pest management so we only spray for what we know is a threat in the patch.” Any examples of avoiding toxic chemicals or choosing a safer option at least tells me that these farmers are paying attention, if ever so slightly, to the environment and their fruit (and certainly their bottom line, since sprays cost money to the farmer too).Some will say, “Organic farms use chemicals too,” in a defensive tone. I know that. I’m not sure how I feel about that phrase…If I can’t find a better option, I’ll lean toward these farms. The place we chose knew exactly when they had last sprayed, and it was four weeks prior.For a farm that does spray standard stuff, you can follow up with this question:“Do you spray once the fruit is on?” (With strawberries, the answer is almost always “no.” With blueberries, I found it to be 100% yes because that’s when the bugs come.”
- Organic Practices: Some will say straight up, “We use organic growing practices,” and since blueberries aren’t GMO, that’s about all you need to know. “No chemical sprays,” is good too – clarify about fungicides too if you can. Basically, if a farm is very cognizant about their practices and the environment, they’ll be ready for your question and make you feel comfortable right away.
The fourth option, of course, is certified organic, and the USDA has already asked all the questions and made sure the farm follows their guidelines. Unfortunately, USDA certified farms are always more expensive simply because of the cost of certification, and they rarely (never?) offer U-pick because of the regulations.
U-Pick Blueberry Options in Grand Rapids
Did you know I have a Grand Rapids local real food resources page? I list all the farms I frequent for everything from meat, to milk, to cheese, to veggies.
I’m happy to share all my research with my local readers today as well, especially since it was all very frustrating and pesticide-filled until I tapped into the power of Facebook. The conversation HERE finally helped me find two potential good options that wouldn’t cost $4/lb.
organic growing practices
- 2124 Coburn Rd Hastings, MI 269-945-3735
- open 8-8p every day
- only 7 acres, make sure their Facebook page says there’s lots of berries before going
- contacted them via Facebook with this response: “We do not use pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides. We don’t ever spray anything on the bushes or blueberries.” A reader wrote in with concerns about what might be sprayed around the bushes if not directly on them, and they weren’t open in the 2020 season, so let me know if you have any updated information on their growing practices and using Roundup.
- 4258 50th St. Holland 616-594-0505
- Sa 8-4p
- organic practices
- call for more info, in 2013 they were having babies and only a message with times, not pricing (website says $5 all you can pick! Um….sounds almost too good to be true!) UPDATE 7/31/13: I have now heard from two readers, one in the comments here and one via email, that they picked at Phunny Farm and just left money, honor system. Awesome. Sounds like the berries might be more “August” berries as far as peak picking season. Thanks for chiming in, KS community! UPDATE 2019: Sadly it sounds as though Phunny Farm has closed. 🙁
Pleasant Hill Farm
- in Fennville
- has been doing organic blueberries for decades according to a reader
Good Land Growers
- No spray farm
- Already picked possible if you call or contact in advance
- in Greenville
- Find on Facebook
- Bangor MI
- 269.214.0838 or 269-214-0837
- Blueberries, raspberries, apples and grapes, juices and cider
- $1/lb. U-pick
- Grow Dukes, Bluecrop, Northland, Bluejay and Spartan
- Their farm “uses much less chemicals than most farms, as of 7/18/13 just one fungicide spray during bloom in early May.”
Mitchell’s Patch of Blue
- reader says they’re nearly organic
- County Road 380 in South Haven
The Berry Bunch – retail for Blueberry Heritage Farms
- $4.00/lb. already picked
- 0-13871 Blair Street Holland, Michigan 49424
- Tel: 616 399-1677
- Also at Fulton and Sweetwater farmers markets
- At least you can pay with credit card if you have to fork over the dough for organic, since this is a storefront (phew). Nerdwallet finds the best deals on credit cards even more efficiently than I found the best deals on organic blueberries…just be sure to pay them off as fast as your freeze your berries. 😉
Wild Dancer Blueberry Farm
- Grand Haven
- No upick
- $4.50/lb for already picked
- Call Megan at 616-502-1313
- also go to Muskegon farmer’s markets
- can sometimes coordinate deliveries to Grand Rapids
Better Than Some
- This is where we actually picked the last two years.
- 8-8p M-Sa
- 15985 Quincy, Holland MI 616-399-6267
- Only use pesticides when necessary, won’t let anyone in for a week after spraying.
- on 7-19-13: sprayed 4 wks ago, yes when fruit is on.
- No fertilizers
- Yes fungicides but they all have a “no wait” period so they’re very safe.
- 10821 Pierce St. Zeeland 616-875-8853
- $1.45/lb upick
- M-F 8-8 Sa 8-3p
- They have a company that scouts for insects, tells them what they need to spray and when. Do spray all year round for diff insects – on fruit too. Follows all policies for harvest etc and safety.
- U-pick and already picked
- 14730 84th Avenue, Coopersville, MI 49404. Phone: 616-677-3889. Email: [email protected]
- Open: Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm; Saturday from 9am to noon; Closed on Sunday.
- Their answer to me from the Facebook page:
We do follow an Integrated Pest Management system program to reduce the amount of spray applications we use. We also follow all label rules, regulations and guidelines set forth by the manufacture and government agencies. Are employees are also certified by the government to spray pesticides.
We do spray for pests once the fruit is on the plant, but we do not allow anyone to pick or enter the field until the required time has elapsed. I realize that many people are concerned about spray residues on their food. However, even organic blueberry growers spray their fruit with chemicals. Pest problems have become even worse with invasive species such as Japanese beetles and Spotted Wing Drosphilla.
Sandy Bottom Berries
- 11555 Sandy Bottom Road NE Rockford, MI 49341 (616) 225-9376
- U-pick raspberries, cherries and blueberries.
- Uses integrated pest mangement, not Kool Aid. From the farm: “We shoot for not spraying 4-6 weeks before picking, but sometimes we cannot meet that due to fruit infesting insects. See our website and farm practices link for a thorough explanation.”
- 9849 Myers Lake Ave NE Rockford, MI 49341 (616) 874-7569
- I bought blueberries here after learning that they haven’t sprayed but once in 20 years. Their pest control utilizes all biological processes and close to organic. Unfortunately, they do use GM corn to keep resistant from pests.
There are lots of other blueberry farms in Grand Rapids, including Versluis out on Lake Michigan Drive (the first farm we picked at), Beard’s in Dorr (sprays with planes), Venroy in Coopersville (been there once) and DK Orchard on Fruit Ridge (where we pick apples, but I have a feeling they spray a lot). This is by no means an exhaustive list..but it might be exhaustive for the organic growing practices. If you find another gem, please comment so I can update the post to help everyone!
Washing and Freezing
Now that we picked at a fairly conventional farm, the conundrum is “to wash or not to wash?” It’s recommended to simply freeze blueberries whole without washing, as washing toughens the skins.
It did rain just the night before we picked, so in a sense, that’s just about as effective as me rinsing the blueberries in a colander, since I KNOW that they didn’t spray anything for four weeks.
It still makes me a little nervous, but I froze 90% of our berries without washing.
And I made a note to go to Kendall’s next year (fingers crossed).
Do you U-pick blueberries? How did you find your farm?