The dairy cattle Spencer Fuentes tended to as a boy have been replaced by blueberries.
Lots and lots of blueberries.
He and his wife, Karen, own and operate Hazel Blue Acres on 430 Hevly Road in Silvana with the help of their three children — Simon, 15, Everett, 13, and Phoebe, 9. Together, the family harvests between 50,000 to 75,000 pounds of berries on the 10.5-acre farm. They also grow hazelnuts, hay, wheat, barley and various other crops.
They sell blueberries fresh and frozen, organic jams and syrups, blueberry soap, blueberry ice cream made by Lopez Island Creamery in Anacortes, blueberry salsa, shelled hazelnuts and sockeye salmon.
Spencer purchased the farm from his mother in 1998, but had no interest in keeping it a dairy farm.
“There were a lot of pros to growing blueberries as a crop,” he said.
The soil and sunshine in the Stillaguamish Valley are ideal for growing the fruit. It’s also sustainable because blueberry bushes can live and produce for up to 50 years.
And unlike dairy cattle, the berries aren’t sassy.
“Cows all have personalities, and you have to deal with a whole bunch of cows,” Spencer said.
The Fuenteses operate Hazel Blue Acres as a small, family-run business with a niche market — and they aim to keep it that way.
That’s why you won’t find their berries at any big chain stores. They’re sold in local stores and markets, or they can be purchased directly from the farm, which are sold beneath a tent in front of the barn.
In the summer, during the U-pick hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, people like to grab a bucket and pick their own berries from any of the 13,000 bushes. It’s $3 per pound, or $2.75 per pound if you pick 10 pounds or more.
Picking berries straight from the source is both a reward and a luxury, Spencer said.
“In the summertime it’s a beautiful spot,” he said. “You can see mountains over there and the (Stillaguamish) river is surrounding the farm.
“They can come out and see the fruit on the bush and know where it came from. That’s as local as you can get.”
The berries come in three varieties: Reka, Draper and Liberty. Each has its own flavor profile: Reka is juicy and tart, Draper is sweet and Liberty is sweet and spicy, like cinnamon.
“We don’t want them to all taste the same,” Spencer said. “Some are sweeter or tarter, juicier or firm.”
The family’s operation — which involves all the kids in varying ways — works like a well-oiled machine today, but it took a leap of faith to get it going more than a decade ago.
Purchasing blueberries was a financial gamble. Ten acres of plants cost about $50,000, while sawdust, irrigation and other necessities racked up even more bills. It takes two to three years for the fruit to be ready for harvest and seven for the fields to fully produce.
“It’s an investment,” Karen said.
Like her husband, Karen was also raised on a dairy farm. Spencer and Karen learned from an early age how to grow grass, corn, feed and make hay. But they knew next to nothing about symbiosis between berries, roots, soil and organisms, for example.
Little by little, they picked up the skills and knowledge needed to move forward.
The plants went in the ground in 2008, but they weren’t harvested until 2010. Spencer’s income from commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, helped keep them afloat financially when they weren’t making money from berries.
The yield of berries started small — just a few thousand pounds. U-pick began several years later when the supply was right.
The family spends the fall, winter and spring cultivating the blueberry bushes, maintaining equipment and spreading mulch and sawdust.
“There is no true downtime,” Spencer said. “There’s always something to do.”
In the summer, the kids will do everything from pick berries, work retail, fold boxes and help monitor irrigation.
“It’s a good, solid two months-plus of being in business,” Spencer said. “Having a family farm is like any other small business. You have to wear many different hats.”
They also hire teens through the state’s Labor and Industries Department.
The Fuenteses’ days are long — sometimes 18 hours — and busy. But it’s important to relish the little things, Spencer said.
“It’s very fulfilling to see a field full of blueberries and know that we did that,” he said. “I can look out and remember cows in the field.”
Evan Thompson: 360-544-2999; email@example.com. Twitter: @evanthompson_1.
For specifics about the upcoming blueberry season and prices for berries, go to www.hazelblueacres.com.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the summer issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.
Want to pick your own berries this summer? Here is a list of the berry farms — including strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry — in Snohomish County.
Bailey Farm: Don Bailey, 12711 Springhetti Road, Snohomish; 360-568-8826; baileyveg.com. U-pick strawberries in June, raspberries in June and July.
Biringer Farm: Mike and Dianna Biringer, 21412 59th Ave. NE, Arlington; 425-259-0255; biringerfarm.com. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Stawberries, raspberries, tayberries, blackberries and black caps. Farmstand and U-pick mid-June through mid-August.
Blueberry Blossom Farm: Dave and Sandy Baer, 8628 Fobes Road, Snohomish; 360-568-4713; blueberryblossomfarm.com. Four U-pick varieties July through August/early September, in ripening order: dukes, spartans, sierras and bluecrop.
Bolles Organic Farm: Kelly and Judy Bolles, 17930 Tualco Loop Road, Monroe; 425-876-9878; firstname.lastname@example.org. U-pick strawberries mid-May and raspberries in July, depending on weather.
Broers Farms: 18228 Tualco Road, Monroe; 360-794-8125. U-pick strawberries, marionberries, blueberries and thornless blackberries from June to August, depending on weather.
Bryant Blueberry Farm: Lana and Jamie Flint, 5628 Grandview Road, Arlington; 360-474-8424; bryantblueberries.com. Fifteen varieties per season, including duke, bluecrop and darrow. U-pick berries July through mid-September.
Donnelly’s Riverbank Blueberries: 11827 Reiner Road, Monroe; 360-793-2114. U-pick blueberries July through August. Pirate ship with swords and a sandbox for children on site.
Garden Treasures Nursery & Organic Farm: Mark Lovejoy, 3328 Highway 530 NE, Arlington; 360-435-9272; gardentreasuresfarm.com. U-pick strawberries and tayberries in June, raspberries and blackcap berries in July.
Hazel Blue Acres Blueberry Farm: Spencer and Karen Fuentes, 430 Hevly Road, Silvana; 360-770-7261; hazelblueacres.com. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. U-pick reka, draper and liberty blueberries starting in July.
Johnson’s Blueberries: Lori Johnson, 17520 187th Ave. SE, Monroe; 425-345-4538; facebook.com/JohnsonsBlueberries. Three varieties of U-pick blueberries (toro, duke, and spartan) July through early August.
Life Mountain Organic Blueberries: 710 May Creek Road, Gold Bar; 360-799-0600. Call ahead in July and August.
Marshland Orchards: Liesa and Marijke Postema, 8102 Marsh Road, Snohomish; 360-563-1200 or 425-481-7565; marshlandorchards.com. Farm-grown strawberries.
Mountainview Blueberry Farm: Keith and Janet Stocker, 7617 E. Lowell-Larimer Road, Snohomish; 360-668-3391; mountainviewblueberryfarm.com. U-pick July through August. Seven varieties available, including stanley, rancoccas and concord, depending on the season.
Raising Cane Ranch: Nichlos Pate and Melissa Denmark, 5719 Riverview Road, Snohomish; 360-348-5804; raisingcaneranch.com. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday. U-pick June through August. Two varieties of raspberries (tulameen and Cascade delight), black diamond blackberries and a small patch of Cascade gold raspberries, tayberries and blueberries.
Red Ranch Berry Farm: Charles Redford, 15130 294th St. NE, Arlington; 425-346-7653; facebook.com/RedRanchBerryFarm. U-pick or we-pick blueray, earliblue, bluecrop, toro and draper blueberries June through August, depending on weather.
Schmidts Blueberry Farm: Kyle and Mikala Schmidt,1217 128th St. NE, Marysville; 360-659-1423; schmidtblueberries.com. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. U-pick and we-pick blueberries starting in July.
Whitehorse Meadows Farm: Valerie and Tom Wall, 38302 Highway 530 NE, Arlington; 206-369-1456 or 360-436-1951; whitehorsemeadowsfarm.com. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. U-pick three varieties of highbush blueberries (spartan, rubel and jersey), starting in July.