The four Guerrier siblings run from bush to bush on a recent August afternoon, shrieking as they find another cluster of fresh berries to add to their quickly filling buckets.
Families like the Guerriers often find these treasurers among the 2,100 bushes at the Higher Taste Blueberry Farm — one of the neighborhood’s best preserved hidden gems nestled on the waterfront of Lake Dolloff. The five-acre, all organic farm that is home to eight varieties of blueberries is celebrating their 65th anniversary this summer.
Gazing over a low fence, visitors find rows of blueberry bushes dotted with pesky blackberry shrubs standing in thick, overgrown rows. The six to seven-foot bushes obscure the immediate view of Lake Dolloff, instead encouraging visitors to wander down a marked path to the waterfront.
The overgrown bushes close in the aisles, but the thinner stems near the ground created maze-like paths at perfect height for kids to discover plentiful, untouched spots in the middle of the farm.
“All of a sudden you’ll hear, ‘We hit the motherload,’” said Mary King, current owner of the Higher Taste Blueberry Farm. “There will be tons of berries because no one knew to go in there.”
The blueberry bushes were planted 65 years ago by the original owners, the Olsons.
These plants supposedly only have a 60-year lifespan, King said. But due to the proximity to Lake Dolloff, the farm sits atop a peat bog that nourishes and hydrates the blueberry bushes — and could be to thank for the farm’s longevity.
“I’m wondering what’s going on because I don’t see any slow down with these producing,” King said of the blueberry bushes. She is the third owner in the farm’s history.
In 1954, the Olson’s planted all of the blueberry bushes that still thrive today. The Olsons owned and cared for the farm for 43 years before selling it to a neighbor. Seven years later in 2005, King, a Federal Way resident, purchased the farm on the 51st anniversary season.
“It’s still a mystery,” she said of the blueberry farm’s growth. “I’ve had it for 15 years and I still learn all the time.”
A trickling creek runs alongside the western edge of the property and a red shed marks the entrance on the east side of the farm near a rowboat-turned-play structure, which King painted to match the shed.
Marked by an Auburn address, the u-pick farm is located near Kilo Middle and Lake Dolloff elementary schools in Lakeland North.
“People say the blueberries here taste better than any other farm,” King said. The late Marlene Beadle, founder of Marlene’s Market who died in June, would purchase blueberries for her stores from this blueberry farm, King added.
As a real estate agent, King knew the farm’s amount of acreage and waterfront footage was a rarity in the area.
“I feel like I was the perfect person to find it,” she said. While others would most likely look at the site as a financial goldmine and turn it into something else or get rid of the farm, King wanted to preserve the tradition.
When she first bought the farm, a group of protective community members questioned her intentions with the farm, King recalled.
“I like the idea of the healthy food for people,” she said. “And that I didn’t spray it. Everybody was so worried when I first bought it … They were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to spray it.’”
King reassured the community the plants would remain pesticide-free under her ownership.
“I just know that no matter what happens, I’ll never spray here.”
The blueberry season generally runs from July to September, Although King said this year the season will likely extend into early October.
U-pick blueberries are sold for $2.50 per pound, and pre-picked options are also available along with raw organic honey from the farm’s beehives.
Advertising is primarily by word-of-mouth, King said, and that’s how the gem stays sacred, but the farm has no shortage in visitors.
“It’s everybody, kids, families, elderly,” she said of the clientele. Recently, King spoke with three ladies in their 60s visiting the farm, who mentioned they used to get paid 10 cents an hour to pick blueberries when they were kids. Many of today’s visitors had also helped out the original owners tend the farm decades ago.
“People really love it, they just really love it,” she said. “Sometimes I get here in the morning and there will be a whole string of cars waiting.”
An after-dinner rush is common, along with weekend crowds, King said.
The grounds are essentially a commercial-sized farm being operated as a mom-and-pop farm by King and a small network of volunteers.
As long as the plants continue to produce the blue superfood, the farm will be around for generations to come.
“I hope it stays here, kind of forever,” she said. “[The blueberry bushes] seem so healthy … they’ve just kind of gotten wild. People come over here and there’s berries galore. So I think there’s something to be said for letting them go wild.”
Volunteer blueberry pickers needed
So many berries, so little hands. If you are interested in volunteering at the blueberry farm, contact owner Mary King at 206-579-0214. Volunteers receive free berries for their help and time.