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Washington's fresh blueberry season ramping up

Growers east of the Cascade Mountains have been harvesting and packing the first fresh Washington state blueberries of the season since late June; now farms west of the Cascades will begin harvesting this week. Washington’s climate, soil and increased blueberry acreage have sustained the state’s reign the past three seasons as the nation’s top blueberry producer. It also grows more fresh organic blueberries than it does conventional blueberries, with the state’s organic production totaling more than all other organic blueberry-producing states combined.blue-1326154 1920

The crop yielded about 120 million pounds in 2016. There are roughly 18,600 acres of blueberries in Washington, 6,000 acres are in eastern Washington, which now produces about 43 percent of this state’s blueberry crop. Farms range from mom-and-pop size to some of the world’s largest blueberry growing operations. Whatcom, Snohomish, Skagit, Benton and Franklin counties are the state’s top blueberry-growing areas. Last year more than 1,000 new acres of blueberries were planted statewide.

Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Blueberry Commission, said he is optimistic about this year’s harvest and a hungry consumer market. “Demand for blueberries continues to increase, both for blueberries’ consumer appeal to make it part of a healthy diet, but also for its natural sweetness; it’s a versatile, easy snack,” Schreiber said. “We have the perfect conditions to cultivate blueberries across the state and we’re seeing more regional growers dedicate acreage to this crop year over year.”

States following Washington in blueberry production are Oregon, Michigan and California. Although peak season for fresh, local blueberries runs from mid-June to mid-August, Washington state enjoys an exceptionally long growing season that stretches to October.

Blueberry facts and tips:

  • According to USDA research, blueberries are rich in anti-oxidant phytonutrients, rich in vitamin C, manganese and fiber.
  • This superfood continues to be researched for its heart-healthy, cholesterol-processing benefits.
  • One cup of fresh blueberries contains about 80 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 3.6 grams fiber and one gram of protein.
  • Versatile for cooking, baking and enjoying fresh, blueberries are found in muffins, tarts, pies and other baked goods.
  • They are also easily added to pancakes, smoothies, salads, sauces, jams, syrups, ice pops and ice cream, or as a breakfast topper on yogurt, oatmeal and granola.
  • When selecting fresh blueberries at markets, choose berries that are deep bluewith no discoloration, and a sweet, fruity scent.
  • The phytochemicals found in blueberries (anthocyanins) are short-lived, soeat fresh blueberries within a few daysof purchase; remaining blueberries can always be frozen for future use.

One easy indicator consumers can use to be sure they’re buying Washington fresh blueberries, Schreiber said, is by checking the container that identifies it as Washington, or by reading the hang tags in the produce sections.