Freeland blueberry farm expects 20,000 pounds from 2015 harvest

Driving through Freeland on Highway 525, it’s likely you’ve seen the cart and banner advertising Mutiny Bay Blues blueberry farm. The farm itself is as unassuming as its marketing strategy, with a large old barn and acres upon acres of blueberry bushes situated on a property just off of Mutiny Bay Road. But by summertime, the farm will become a bustling hive of activity, expected to produce about 20,000 pounds of berries to be distributed to grocers and farm stands from Clinton to Oak Harbor.

Ken Petry and Britt Fletcher are preparing for what they expect to be a busy harvest season.

Driving through Freeland on Highway 525, it’s likely you’ve seen the cart and banner advertising Mutiny Bay Blues blueberry farm.

The farm itself is as unassuming as its marketing strategy, with a large old barn and acres upon acres of blueberry bushes situated on a property just off of Mutiny Bay Road.

But by summertime, the farm will become a bustling hive of activity, expected to produce about 20,000 pounds of berries to be distributed to grocers and farm stands from Clinton to Oak Harbor.

Britt Fletcher, owner of the 16.5-acre organic blueberry farm, is seeking pickers for the upcoming harvest. According to Fletcher, the opportunity could prove ripe with advancement opportunities as his business rapidly expands.

He would know. Fletcher began picking at age 9, earning about 30 cents a flat, and has worked in agriculture on and off since then. Ken Petry, farm manager, has worked in the agricultural industry since 1979.

“I love blueberries,” said Petry, a sentiment echoed by Fletcher.

Fletcher bought the farm in 2009 and planted the farm’s first bushes in 2011. Last year, they distributed to South Whidbey restaurants, grocery stores and farm stands including Payless, Red Apple, the Star Store, Clinton Food Mart and Blue Moon Farm Stand. This year, they’ll be expanding their distribution throughout Whidbey Island in their first “commercial pick.” In the future, Fletcher plans to expand even further, though he said he intends to remain a local farm, and only sell within a 100-mile radius.

There are 12 varieties of berries currently growing, though they have three main strands: Duke, Draper and Liberty. The rest are test rows, which Fletcher will observe and examine to determine whether or not to plant more of them in the future.

“It’s science as well as a bit of art,” Fletcher said.

In addition to the berries, Fletcher keeps his own bees, which produce honey and pollinate the crops.

As the operation expands, Fletcher said he plans to establish a sorting shed which will include a commercial kitchen. The kitchen may be used to make chocolate-dipped berries, and to produce honey, both of which will be sold to local establishments.

Due to the business’ rapid growth, Fletcher and Petry noted that there is likely to be plentiful opportunity for advancement for pickers who decide to stay on for multiple summers. Fletcher surmises that he will have openings in everything from management to sales in years to come.

In addition to the benefit of hard work, pickers receive minimum wage and a chance to sample the berries for quality assurance.

There’s no picking before 9 a.m. or on rainy days; the season begins around the second week in July and ends around the second week of September.

Education is essential to the farm’s operation, and Petry noted that he and other workers recently attended “blueberry school” at Oregon State University, where they learned about subjects such as plant development.

Fletcher has also established two scholarships for individuals to use either towards a college degree or for vocational training. Each scholarship is worth $2,500. One will be available for a worker at the farm, and the other will be available to any Whidbey Island resident.

More information will be available on the farm’s soon to be released website, Fletcher explained.

Those who would like to apply for work may do so at any time by emailing the farm at petrycustomfarming1993@yahoo.com.

 

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