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U-pick has natural appeal

Wed., June 27, 2007

Among the judicious pickers and indulgent gobblers, a new batch of strawberry scoopers is filling the patches at Siemers Farm in Green Bluff.

With the official kickoff of strawberry season, food aficionados and sustainable farming enthusiasts helped make last weekend’s U-pick strawberry fields some of the most crowded ever.

“The trends are changing back,” said Byron Siemers, 67, whose parents owned Siemers Farm before him.

“More people want to experience the country, and health is a factor. They are going back to the farm, buying local, and it’s spurred people this way,” he said Tuesday, indicating the families scattered over 16 acres, the largest strawberry patch in the area.

Spokane resident Trish Butler wants her children to understand where their food comes from.

“It’s so much easier to go buy them in a store, but it’s a fun tradition to bring the kids out,” said Butler, 36. “Of course, they fill their tummies before they leave the patch,” she joked, slipping one of the berries into her mouth.

Co-owner Donna Siemers, 72, said the hot spring and dry winter made the strawberries smaller while increasing their natural sweetness. The unusual weather also started the season June 13, about a week earlier than normal.

So far, the early start hasn’t affected the pickers. Karen Knapp, from Knapp’s, one of about three other strawberry fields at Green Bluff, said they still have “lots left” after the first weekend of strawberry festivities.

What won’t be available is prepicked strawberries, said Donna Siemers.

“Because the season started early we’ve already lost our pickers who are mostly kids,” she said. “They get tired of it and think ‘I’ve made $30, I’m going to the lake!’ “

From the look of the juice dripping down her chin, there’s no other place 4-year-old Chloë Mcauliff would rather be on this cloudless weekday morning. “She lives for this day,” said her mother, Susan Mcauliff, 41. “We first brought her here when she was 2 and she ate so much she got sick.”

The young strawberry lover lugged a wooden flat almost as big as her. She began her picking-turned-feasting as 23-year-old Anna Zinchenko paid for a box of freshly picked berries, 95 cents a pound. For Zinchenko, picking her own strawberries is part nostalgia and part taste.

“We used to have a garden in Ukraine,” she said, “and you have to eat them fresh.”

Donna Siemer agreed, saying Green Bluff’s strawberries are as refined as other local treasures, like huckleberries and apples.

“I tell people it’s like wine tasting; it’s fun to go from one to the other,” she said about the five strawberry varieties on the farm. “It tastes a lot better than a (vitamin) supplement.”


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