Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
For the third year in a row, we took the kids blueberry picking at Vanderhelm Farms. The drive takes us down a road of nostalgia paved while living in the midst of rolling hills of walnut trees. The path down Geer or Albers was one required to get from home to anywhere.
This time, going north, we see the rusted antique truck and take the turn following the illustrated blue arrow that tells us the way to blueberries. Driving around the house and admiring what farm-life must be like, we rest our van’s weary wheels in a choice parking spot along the gravel lot, the second vehicle to arrive that morning. It is 8:10 a.m.
The children hop out, hardly willing to wait for the one still bound by rear-facing car seat laws. We collect our buckets inside the hollow barn, take note of the directions to find the ripest, biggest bunches and head down past the tent in the sun.
The picking begins. A conscientious seven-year-old works intently to fill her bucket, eager to work for whatever reward will come to her.
The five-year-old admits, after thirty minutes, to eating his blueberries. “Kerplunk!” perhaps Blueberries for Sal was not the best story to prepare them. The four-year-old is confused when, at the close of the hour, her bucket is emptied into fuller buckets. She thought they were all for her to eat.
We knew it was time to leave when the two-year-old cried because he was not allowed to pile grass and sticks in our buckets of blueberries. Being averse to food, sticks are just as good.
I love this tradition. We make the sacrifice of paying for 15 lbs. of blueberries (many hands make for many blueberries).
Returning home, I quickly lay out the rimmed cookie sheets. Four pans of blueberries will freeze overnight, to be emptied into bags for clean and in-tact freezing, to be used throughout the year. I leave out a bowl of less-than-perfectly ripe berries as a decoy so when the children steal, they are not stealing those sapphire jewels destined for blueberry muffins.
The next morning four batches of muffins, overflowing with deep purple juice, move through nearly all their lifecycle stages from raw ingredients to batter to muffins. Three batches frozen, only two muffins remain in the fridge.
My conclusion every year, Vanderhelm Farms is amazing!
It is a great model business, a timely business and something we desperately need. Vandelhelm Farms opened in 2009, with its first “U-pick” season in 2012. Ron Vanderhelm, who owns the farm along with his mother and wife, said each year they have reinvested all they earned back into the farm, making it grow each year.
The farm offers a “free” family outing. Sold at $3 a pound for “U-pick” blueberries and $5 a pound for pre-picked blueberries, the only cost is the number of blueberries you want. They do not charge admission. Your children can play for free on their playground. Even the cost of a water bottle reflects the desire to hydrate rather than price-gouge. It may be a business, but is priced as a just business, beyond the ubiquitous desire for profit.
Blueberries are a perfect plant for this project: short bushes, each to pick, no threatening thorns. “U-pick” farms connect children to their food. So many do not see where their food comes from, but when they do, research shows they make healthier choices.
The model benefits those families who may not be able to afford as much healthy produce. Low cost, high effort, any family who can get there can have this wonderfully healthy fruit.
Blueberries, whose temperate growing tastes and delicacy requiring hand-picking for quality, are expensive in stores. We already know the Central Valley is the best at growing everything. Vanderhelm saves on labor, people in the community benefit with fresher, more delicious fruit.
The family saw an opening in the market and filled that need. Their farm has become an essential tradition to many families, including our own, and I hope it will continue.
Discloser of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.