Get ready, get set ... pick!
Off Northwest Cornelius Road, rows of raspberries are primed to pick and residents from all over the area already have buckets in hand during the first weekend of summer.
The Tualatin Valley, with its deep agricultural roots, is home to dozens of U-pick farms. West Union Gardens is all about almost every berry you can think of, with some types some folks may not have heard of — and are one of many U-picks in Washington County welcoming hundreds of people a day.
Run by the Boden family since 1987, the business has witnessed Hillsboro grow exponentially over time, but its proprietors have kept their mission the same: providing fresh berries from late June to September.
Jeff and Cheryl Boden founded West Union Gardens without any farming experience, beginning with 40 acres tucked away off Highway 26 at 7775 N.W. Cornelius Road.
Cheryl Boden helped create the beginnings of the Beaverton Farmer's Market, which started in 1988, a year after West Union Gardens opened to the public for its first season. Fast forward to today, with the farm having a major following and more than 80 acres, along with fresh faces becoming new regulars year after year. The Bodens employ local residents, including Washington County teachers on summer break, and have employees who've been there since the farm's beginnings.
"It is great. I feel like our customer base has grown in the way this town has," said Cheryl Boden. "U-pick can be fun and it is an experience people should have. Taking something from the vine, it is a totally new concept."
From tayberries, blackberries, gooseberries, red and black currants, haskaps, raspberries, marionberries, loganberries and boysenberries, the Bodens have quite an array. They also sell veggies: zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
"The first month is always, 'Hey! How've you been? It's been so long!" said Kady Boden, the manager of the farmstand and Cheryl and Jeff's daughter-in-law. "We have people who come every week all summer long, and some who are strictly here for one thing, like boysenberries. The variety we grow helps distinguish us."
The Bodens belong to a group called Tri-County Farms, an organization of local farms that directly sell to the public in Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties. Its website, tricountyfarm.org, serves as a database and reference guide for produce in the area, showing what farm specializes in various areas such as vegetables, tree fruits, nuts and more.
On top of that, the Oregon Farm Bureau created a database called Oregon's Bounty, which lists many U-picks and farm stands organized by region. According to the site, the Portland metro area has more than 80 registered U-picks on its list.
The Bodens learn from their customers as much as the customers learn from them, they said. Many customers share recipes or bring them jam, while the Bodens often share the differences between their berries and how they grow.
It's the little tips and tricks that make a difference at U-picks, the Bodens agree. Many arrive early to get the first chance to pick for the day, with families and new faces arriving later in the day.
"After Friday and Saturday, we are ravaged," said Jeff Boden, suggesting the best time to pick is a mid-week morning.
On top of being a hot spot this time of year, West Union Gardens is always trying something new with its land to bring more berries to the table, from using high tunnels to keep the temperature warmer to extend its growing season — and allowing their berry rows to be wider to mow between them instead of using herbicides, Kady Boden shared.
"We started with nothing and now we own more than 80 acres in Washington County," said Jeff Boden. "That doesn't just happen. It is working hard and having all these pieces to make it."
What keeps them going more than 30 years later?
"I like it," Jeff Boden said. "I have a vision for it."
"Just can't quit," Cheryl Boden added.
West Union Gardens is open until from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from June to August, Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sundays.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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