We may be 90 or so miles away, but Seattle people are not afraid to jump in the car with a cup of coffee and come up here and pick berries...
LYNDEN, Whatcom County — We may be 90 or so miles away, but Seattle people are not afraid to jump in the car with a cup of coffee and come up here and pick berries and pet goats and have a piece of cobbler or pie,” Marty McPhail is saying. “It’s a real outing for them, and they can come home with a trunk full of berries.”
Well, that all depends on your preferences. McPhail, a third-generation farmer, grows U-pick raspberries, loganberries, marionberries, blackberries, gooseberries, tayberries, strawberries, boysenberries and currants on about 30 acres in Lynden, just a stone’s throw from Canada.
But this weekend, velvety, rich-red raspberries will be king as Lynden celebrates its eighth annual Raspberry Festival by inviting all to sample a few, participate in a 5K run through berry fields bright with fruit, listen to a little jazz, play a little basketball and enjoy a slice of small-town America that’s in no danger of being replaced by random strip malls, thank you.
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Indeed Lynden, population, 10,100, is twice as big as it was a decade ago and thriving thanks to tourism (yes, the town really does want outsiders to attend its festival) and agriculture.
Venture off Interstate 5 for a country-roads tour of the farming area around Lynden and the extent of that agriculture is dazzling. There are huge dairy farms, fields of knee-high corn and potato plants greening in the sunshine.
Miles and miles of lush, 6-foot tall, vinelike canes are trellised and tied much like wine grapes.
If it seems like they’re everywhere that’s just about right because Whatcom is the nation’s No. 1 raspberry-producing county. Last year, 116 Whatcom growers produced almost 46 million pounds of the fruit. That’s 85 percent of the state’s total and more than half of the nation’s entire crop.
Berry good times
Festival this weekend
Lynden Raspberry Festival is Friday-Sunday in downtown Lynden. Highlights:
• “Do the Razz, Hear the Jazz” music performances. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Centennial Park; Fourth and Grover Street. Free.
• Raspberry Run/Walk for Cancer, 10 a.m. Saturday, through Berthusen Park old-growth forest and local raspberry fields. Register at 9 a.m. at Berthusen Park (8837 Berthusen Road), run/walk at 10 a.m. Online registration forms at www.lynden.org. Fees range from $5-$20.
• Berry Big Shot, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Lynden. Buy free-throw basketball shots for chance to win $500.
• Family Fun at McPhail Berry Farm, 8318 Bob Hall Road, Lynden. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Free bus tours to the farm leave from Lynden Pioneer Museum, 217 Front St., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. U-pick berries, petting zoo, music and more.
Other events include a downtown sidewalk sale and craft fair, raspberry dessert contest and opportunity for kids to do arts and crafts at the Lynden Pioneer Museum.
Lynden is in Whatcom County 100 miles north of Seattle. Take Interstate 5 north to Bellingham, Exit 256 A-B, and follow exit signs to Lynden. These will lead onto Meridian Street (also known as Highway 539), which becomes Guide Meridian. Stay on Guide Meridian for 11 miles. Turn right onto Front Street and follow it into downtown Lynden.
There are three U-pick raspberry farms around Lynden and nearby Ferndale:
McPhail Berry Farm, 8318 Bob Hall Road, Lynden. Berries available for picking include raspberries, blueberries, marionberries and gooseberries. Berry kitchen offering ready-made berry desserts and jams; jam making available by reservation. Petting zoo, picnic area. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. 360-354-5936 or www.mcphailberries.com.
Barbie’s Berries, 7655 Melody Lane, Ferndale. 10 acres of raspberries, blueberries (and strawberries earlier in season). Picnic area. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. 360-384-1260.
Boxx Fruit and Vegetable Farm, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale. Raspberries, blueberries and flowers. Farm store offering homemade jams, syrups and other items. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 360-384-4806.
Samson Estates Winery is at 1861 Van Dyk Road, Lynden. Tasting room offering samples of dinner and dessert wines made from locally produced raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. A selection of red and white wines produced by Samson from Eastern Washington grapes also available. Summer hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. 360-966-7787 or www.samsonestates.com.
The Bellingham-Lynden area offers a range of accommodations, including inns, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels and even yurts.
• The most distinctive accommodations in Lynden are in downtown’s trademark windmill, part of the Dutch Village Inn, 655 Front St. You’ll have no trouble finding it. $69-$110 includes breakfast. 360-354-4440.
• Homestead Farms Golf Resort, Lynden, offers the 30-unit Farmhouse Hotel, as well as condos and cabanas on an 18-hole golf course. Rooms start under $100. 800-354-1196 or www.homesteadfarmsgolf.com.
Other summer events
• Threshing Bee and Antique Tractor Show, hosted by Puget Sound Antique Tractor & Machinery Association, Aug. 3-6, Berthusen Park, Lynden.
• Northwest Washington Fair, Lynden, Aug. 15-20
• Lynden PRCA Rodeo, Aug. 26-27
See the Lynden Chamber of Commerce Web site, www.lynden.org
Most of these berries are frozen or end up in desserts or jams (Smucker’s is a major buyer), and most growers do not allow visitors.
McPhail is one of the few who does, purposely marrying agriculture and tourism. (That’s where the goats come in; there’s a petting zoo.)
“Farms are getting tougher to get on all the time for the public,” he says. “Here, they can come out and wander around.”
To attract them, McPhail has built a “berry kitchen,” where visitors can buy a fresh-baked dessert and eat it topped with ice cream on the welcoming front porch inhabited by the farm’s unofficial greeter. He’s gentle, elderly Beau, a Great Dane mix who weighs 168 pounds and has a head like a black bear.
If visitors reserve ahead, McPhail’s wife, Eileen McPhail, will teach them how to make jam in the berry kitchen. “It takes about an hour to make a batch,” he says, and the farm provides the jars and other necessities at cost.
“The people who really like to do this are people who really like jam, but don’t know how to make it,” he observes. “When they go home they have a case of jam under their arm. Some people give it away as Christmas gifts.”
Still, the big allure is berry picking.
Buy them from the store “and you might get a not-ripe one or one that’s a little smashed,” points out Gordon Lucht, McPhail’s farmhand. “But when you pick, you choose each berry.”
Raspberry picking is particularly popular, adds berry kitchen employee Leslie DeJong, because “it’s easier than strawberries. You have to bend over for them. With raspberries you can pick standing up.”
The other benefit, obviously, is the free labor involved. McPhail charges $1.10 a pound for U-pick raspberries, compared with $2 for a harvested half-pound.
Blueberries are on the horizon
A few miles away, Barb and Randy Kraght run another U-pick operation, Barbie’s Berries. She says this year the raspberries are ripening more slowly than in others, but there’s already a good supply. She expects them to be available through the end of July.
If folks miss out on them, blueberries will be ripe for plucking through the middle of August. She grows those, too.
“The only thing people need to bring are containers to transport them home,” says Kraght. “We provide containers to pick in.”
As it is for many folks around Lynden, the raspberry festival is a big deal for Kraght and her family.
“We have a great time,” she says, fairly swooning at the thought of that sublime union of two Lynden industries — dairy and berries — into raspberry ice-cream sundaes. They’ll be among the many food choices available along Lynden’s scenic main street.
Go a few miles out of town and a more unusual use of raspberries can be found: an award-winning crisp raspberry wine that’s the pride of Samson Estates Winery owned by the Dhaliwal family.
They farm 220 acres of raspberries. About 1 percent become wine, which is marketed under the Delilah label. The winery has a big, new tasting room, and vintner Rav Dhaliwal has a passion for educating people about his passion.
“Consumers think they’re just fruit-flavored wines. We’re using 100 percent fruit and doing it all naturally.”
Raspberries came later
Some 15 miles directly north of Bellingham, Lynden was incorporated in 1891. The majority of the early settlers were Dutch immigrants who chose the area because its soil and climate reminded them of home.
Mary Michaelson, assistant curator of Lynden’s Pioneer Museum, says raspberries weren’t even on anyone’s radar until about 1912.
“What they had around here were a lot of ‘stump farms’ because they’d cut a lot of lumber,” Michaelson recounts. “But the cut land wasn’t worth anything, and raspberries were so profitable to grow that it was worth clearing the stumps.”
Still, raspberries are delicate and demanding and will only grow in certain places.
“It was determined that Whatcom County had the right amount of rain, the right soil, so a bunch of farmers got together and decided to farm them,” says Michaelson. A series of articles in the local newspaper taught them how.
A deeply religious farming community, Lynden has long had a thriving main street called Front Street. But in the mid-1980s, a threat to its health appeared in the form of Bellingham’s Bellis Fair Mall. Lynden’s stores and shoppers began departing, and if the exodus continued, Lynden would become just another faded, failing farm town.
The town’s leaders vowed that wasn’t going to happen, recalls Renee Reimer, executive director of Lynden’s Chamber of Commerce. So they decided to promote another kind of cash crop: tourism.
“At the time, 80 percent of the people were Dutch, so it was decided to do a Dutch motif,” Reimer says. And that’s why the unofficial entrance to Front Street is a 72-foot green-and-white windmill (which you can spend the night in), and many of its businesses have some sort of Dutch association. No fast-food outlets, mass-market coffee shops or chain stores here.
Instead there’s Dutch Mother’s Family Restaurant where waitresses wear long, floral dresses topped with crisp white aprons, and the menu offers “krenten brood met erwlen soep.” That’s a grilled raisin bun filled with sliced ham and Gouda cheese accompanied by Dutch pea soup.
Another Front Street institution is the Lynden Dutch Bakery. Again the servers doling out such sweet treats as raspberry rhubarb pie are costumed. On the wall is a corkboard headlined “America’s Most Wanted.” Below it are a host of photos — baby pictures posted by customers — because America’s Most Wanted are “our grandkids.”
Indeed Lynden is the kind of family-oriented place where some folks still don’t lock their doors and Reimer says “people ask, ‘do you have a city gardener?’ because everything is so clean and tidy.”
Truth is, that’s just the way folks around here like it. Visitors, too.
Elizabeth Rhodes: email@example.com