July 5, 2018 / Forks in the DIrt blog blog by Michelle Bruhn
Pick Your Own Farms bring together the best of summer- getting to spend time in the great outdoors in a beautiful setting, with friends + family, all working towards a tasty end goal; buckets full of blueberries! This is local food Summertime bliss. Blueberry Fields of Stillwater brings a sweet mixture of this bliss to their guests each Summer.
Is it the farm’s rolling hills and pastoral setting? Or the acres of immaculately maintained spacious rows all bursting with blueberries? Maybe it’s all the energy and love that farmers Bev and Mike O’Connor have poured into the land? Regardless of the ‘why’ you can feel the unique calm of this farm as you stroll down into the fields. Just wait until you taste the sun sweetened blueberries!
Bev in her happy place!
If you’ve never picked your own blueberries before no worries, they’re every bit as easy as strawberries and raspberries. You can just roll them between your fingers and the ripe ones will kind of fall off. You can easily tell the ripe from unripe berries.
The farm has two acres of blueberries now in the third year of organic production. There are seven varieties to give us all a wonderful selection and extended picking season. From the first sun-sweetened Polaris berries to the late-season Superior berries they have it planned out so you get to come and pick at your leisure. You can always check their website or phone line (651-351-0492) for the latest picking updates.
My boys picking blueberries last Summer
Picking different kinds of berries offers different kinds of experiences. Blueberry picking is not as fast paced as strawberry picking. The berries are smaller, but the bushes bigger, so you can set down a stool and just loose yourself in picking. “Something just happens in these fields when they’ve got a few groups picking, voices can carry and conversations continue over rows. We also get quite a few couples on dates. Everyone slows down a bit while they’re here. That’s our hope, that this is a beautiful place to pick the best blueberries- but also that you leave a little refreshed.”
Building a Blueberry Farm
Bev takes her time; even when they are busiest on weekends during their 3-4 week PYO season. Usually there are three ‘picking’ times on each bush. The first are usually the biggest berries, and mildly sweet. The second round produces the sweetest berries. The third produces smaller berries but usually the sweetest. Each year is a little different though, Mother Nature’s way of reminding us she’s still in charge!
Bev has also taken the time to work on the soil. Increasing from 1% organic matter when they started testing in 2005 and increased it to 5% in 2018 (Most MN Soil is around 2% organic matter so this is kind of a big deal!). That organic matter helps maintain moisture, feed the plants and helps the bushes fight infections. I also think it helps these berries burst with a flavor unique to this location.
Local Food Flavor
Isn’t that why we love Pick Your Own Farms? To be able to taste the difference in these locally grown fruits verses the store bought and shipped varieties (from as far as Chile in the winter and California/Florida, Maine/Michigan as the summer progresses). And one thing I’ll ask, when you go- pick as much as you can! Blueberries freeze VERY well- just roll in a towel to get any stubborn stems off and freeze on a sheet pan, then pop into a freezer bag.
“They smell amazing in the middle of winter, opening a bag of frozen berries in February brings you right back to that sunny day on our farm,” says Bev. I can attest to it, they smell amazing even frozen. I’ve opened bags of organic frozen blueberries from Costco in February and they don’t smell. At All. I ran out of the berries we picked last summer way back in November. I am not letting that happen again!
What About Growing Your Own?
I love our two blueberry bushes (and the few handfuls of tasty berries we harvest from them) growing in our home garden. But they look nothing like the full, glossy leaved, ‘dripping with berries’ bushes at this farm! Bev shares links to their favorite growing practice websites right on their website. These folks are truly passionate about blueberries, and want spread the love.
I also have two small Aronia Berry plants, another native Super Food berry, read more about these berries and their amazing properties HERE. I love that berry bushes are a perennial form of food in my yard.
When you’re looking down over the immaculate rows of bushes you can’t help but notice all the netting! This is another reason to leave mass blueberry production to the pros. This labor-intensive practice keeps the birds out, and also why you pick only where they have lifted the netting off. Bev and her helpers will direct you to the best berries for the day.
Blueberries in/on Your Bucket List
Me and my boys visited for the first time last year and knew this was a place we’d be returning to. Sure enough it was on my boys’ 2018 Summer Bucket List too. I can’t wait to get back there with them and pick all morning. Now that I know they’ve got a handwashing station and a ‘berrywashing’ station, we can plan to stay a while and enjoy the ‘fruits of our labors’ (ha) under one of their well thought out shaded rest areas, the breezy top of the hill overlooking the fields would be my pick!
The Minnesota Grown website show 31 PYO Pick Your Own Blueberry Farms in the state, we’re lucky that one of the very few to be growing with organic practices is also the closest to us! They’re even working on using essential oils in place of pesticides with a grant from the MN Dept of Agriculture AGRI Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant. Just another way these farmers are staying true to their mission of creating a healthy, refreshing experience.
Bev’s previous profession was nursing, so she well acquainted with the value of good health. She loves being able to share these super food berries with visitors. Blueberries are packed full of antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals, are low in calories and have many other health benefits. They also taste amazing. Especially when you can eat a few sun warmed berries sitting in the shade overlooking the fields you just picked them from.
Know before you go:
Blueberry Fields of Stillwater- 9450 Mendel Road Stillwater, MN 55082
a slight discount for paying with cash or check
Picking buckets and boxes provided
Bring water, sunscreen and bug spray
No pesticides are used so there may be bees in the field
Kids are welcome, please read their Kid Tips
Handicap Accessible bathroom on site, uneven ground
Check their website, or call 651-351-0492 for up to date picking info
Earlier is better, it gets warm out there!
I can’t wait to get back and pick buckets of blueberries this summer, and this time I’ll be more prepared. I hope you will be too. If you’re too far from Blueberry Fields of Stillwater to make it out there, I know Bev would still want you to find a place to pick your own, closer to your home. The Minnesota Grown website can help you find your closest berry patch. Type in “Blueberries” in the product search bar [🙂]
Bev’s favorite way to eat them is still warm from the sun, or just thawing after coming out of the freezer, I agree with both. I also see a blueberry cobbler in my near future! What will you make with yours?
ps- Don’t forget to pick enough to last the long haul through winter…
Looking forward to Digging In to blueberry season!