The Apple Bin Express takes customers through rows of orchards at BelleWood Acres. Six to eight old wooden apple bins made into seats are lined up and hooked to a tractor and get pulled out to the orchard for 15 to 20 minutes. When arrived, customers have a chance to pick their own apples off BelleWood Acres apple trees.
BelleWood Acres, near Lynden, is one of the various Whatcom County sites offering u-pick farming this summer, along with Bellingham Country Gardens, Barbie’s Berries and Koskela Blueberry Farm.
U-pick farms give customers the opportunity to see where the produce is grown, how it is grown, and customers can be assured it is fresh from the garden, said Sam Grubbs, owner and farmer at Bellingham Country Gardens.
Since Bellingham has been having an early summer and warm weather, local farms are already starting to harvest their fruit. However, things could slow down a bit if the rest of June and July are cooler, said Dorie Belisle, owner and farmer of BelleWood Acres.
“I think customers are most interested in the fun that comes from picking and being out in the orchard and actually being able to pick an apple off a tree,” Belisle said. “So it’s fun and educational and, of course, the fruit tastes wonderful because it’s coming right from the tree.”
Angela Melby, a customer of BelleWood Acres and Koskela Blueberry Farm, prefers u-pick farms because they allow her to get exactly what she wants.
“I like that you can hand pick the fruit you are buying and get the exact amount you want. I also like that you get to see where it grows,” said Melby.
Getting to go out to the farms and enjoying a beautiful place to be can be fun for both children and adults, Grubbs said. "The children get to see how things are grown and a lot of adults do too. Some adults don’t even know where a carrot is or how to find one,” Grubbs said. U-pick farms are beneficial for customers because it gives them ability to pick and choose what they want.
The ability to pick specific amounts and kinds of berries for a cheaper price with peaceful scenery is what Julie Vander Meulen, Manager at Barbie’s Berries, said benefits u-pick customers. Melby said that because prices are usually cheaper, u-pickers have the ability to get more fruit in bulk.
“You get to be picky about the fruit because you can see it all before you pick it,” Melby said.
Melby said most of the farms have other activities to do besides picking fruit, though she typically spends two hours at the farms to sort through the variety of berries and apples to bring home with her.
“There are usually other things at the farms like events or a store where you can look through and buy other things too,” Melby said.
Upon arrival to BelleWood Acres, employees tell customers which varieties of apples are available for them to pick. Customers are also given a map of the 18,000 trees on the orchard to guide them with a list of available apples. BelleWood Acres offers a fun atmosphere for everyone, office manager Evelyn Tjoelker said.
Among their 20 varieties of apples, BelleWood Acres offers Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Sansa and Golden Supremes, Belisle said.
Honeycrisp apples are usually the most popular apples taken home from BelleWood Acres, but Gravenstein apples are becoming very common among bakers, Belisle said.
“Unfortunately not all the apples are u-pick though because some of them have to come off very quickly or they aren’t good,” Belisle said.
This year, apples are going to run from approximately $1.40 to $1.80 a pound at BelleWood, depending on the variety of the crop, Belisle said.
The months of September and October are BelleWood Acres’ harvest months. BelleWood celebrates the harvest every weekend by giving attendees the opportunity to sit outside, enjoy music, participate in u-pick and have a meal at BelleWood’s restaurant, Country Café & Bakery, Belisle said.
“The atmosphere is just awesome,” Tjoelker said. “We’ve got great food and people are just happy, that’s one of my favorites. And there is just so much to do between the distillery, store and café.”
BelleWood’s distillery is also open year round from 10 a.m-5 p.m daily for tasting and tours. BelleWood Distilling offers seven different handcrafted spirits including vodka, brandy, gin and liqueurs.