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Find your thrill: Blueberries are ripe for the picking

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Kara and Gabriel Rice, owners of the four-acre U-pick Powder Blueberry Farm, in Gresham. On Friday afternoon Liz Crary, her daughter Tess Thiringer and Tess’ friend Adrienne Meyer moved slowly down a row of blueberry bushes at Gresham’s Powder Blueberry Farm, filling their buckets with the luscious fruit.

“They are fresher and better” than berries you buy in the store, said Thiringer. “We’ve been coming here for years.”

The blueberries are big and said to be particularly tasty this year, but picking season is a bit early — and always short — so it’s time to get out there if you are interested in a taste of this year’s local blueberry crop.

“Our berries are massive in size and they are sweet. Everybody seems to be pretty pleased,” said Kara Rice who owns Powder, a four-acre U-pick farm in Gresham, with her husband Gabriel.

Crary eats many of the blueberries fresh, but also freezes them to have them all year.

“I eat them every morning with my hot cereal. They are they best fruit around,’ she said. “They are both very nutritious and delicious.”

There are lots of U-pick farms in East Multnomah and Clackamas counties, and the berries are ripe for the picking. Picking your own blueberries or other produce creates an opportunity for a fun family outing gets folks outside and for some fresh air.

“It is a good family experience out here,” said Jean Cox, of Don Smith’s Blueberries in Estacada. “It is a gorgeous setting, very peaceful and very quiet. We have views of Mount Hood.” COURTESY PHOTO - This bucket of blues is overflowing with antioxidants.

When children pick too, they get a better idea of the source of some of their food and how it is grown. “They’ll know where those blueberry pancakes come from,” said Cox.

U-pick is also a social event. The Crary party was talking and laughing as they harvested, and conversations in various languages were ringing out among the rows of the seven varieties of blueberries Powder offers.

Most of the farms contacted by The Outlook say they will have good blueberry picking until at least the end of July, but it all depends on the weather.

If you don’t have time or interest to pick them yourself, local farmers markets and grocery stores are also full of blueberries.

The number of acres planted in blueberries has exploded across the U.S. as the demand for the yummy “superfood” has soared. Blueberries, rich in antioxidants, have become a popular, healthy food consumed fresh, blended in smoothies or tucked into other recipes.

The 356 blueberry farms in Oregon average 10 acres but range from huge operations to tiny mom and pops that offer U-pick and sell at a few farmers markets or to restaurants.

Blueberries are more than just a yummy summer treat. They are big business in Oregon. Oregon growers are expected to harvest more than 100 million pounds of blueberries this year, according to the Oregon Blueberry Commission. That is more than double the 47.2 million pounds that were harvested in 2009. Less than half of the Oregon production is consumed fresh, with most blueberries picked to be frozen and sold in bulk or in store freezers.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of blueberries, and Washington produces more than any state. Oregon comes in second, with its blueberries exported to countries including Argentina, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. At 20,000 pounds per acre, Oregon has one of the highest blueberry field yields.

Of course, most of us are only interested in harvesting enough for jam or a pie.

“Now is the perfect time to come out,” Cox said.