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Bow Hill Blueberry Farm: Graze the days of summer

Jun 30th, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

by Samantha Schuller

The 65-year-old blueberry bushes at Bow Hill Blueberry Farm tower up to nine feet high, loaded with miniature blueberries on long stems. “These are Rubels,” owner Harley Soltes said, “the original blueberry planted from the wild.” He and his farm cohort, wife Susan, are walking up and down the rows of bushes on their 6-acre farm, taking stock of the coming harvest and adding to the never-ending to-do list. While Rubels are great for baking, the farm also has varieties of the plumper Jerseys, Blue Crops, and Stanleys that make for good summer eating.

Owners Susan and Harley Soltes. PHOTO BY SAMANTHA SCHULLER

Bow Hill Blueberry Farm, formerly Anderson Blueberries, was established in 1947 and is known as the oldest family-run blueberry farm in the Skagit Valley. Harley & Susan Soltes came into ownership in 2011. “We came to the Skagit Valley because it’s a great place to farm. While you’re leaning on your hoe, you’re looking at one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” Harley said. While not new to farming, the Solteses are new to the joys and challenges of full-time farming. “It’s really over-time farming now,” added Susan, as they also operate a high-tunnel greenhouse on a certified organic site in Edison, as well as a farm and organic supply in Kingston, where they lived before relocating to Bow.

Bow Hill Blueberries is under transition to organic, as the farm was conventional prior to the Solteses’ arrival. “We have completed our first year of full organic practices and have a transitional certificate from the WSDA,” Harley said, “so we have two more years of using fully organic methods before we can earn certified organic status.”

The support of other Skagit farmers has surprised and impressed the Solteses. “We have received amazing help from farmers in the valley with vast experience. The amount of support between farmers, especially the help given to new farmers, is not something I experienced in my previous working life,” Harley said.

The farm’s motto, “think big, stay small,” reflects a passion to play key roles in local agriculture, education, and economy, while maintaining an intimate connection to the surrounding community. “Our favorite way to sell is u-pick. I like getting to know the people that come here, building on that community relationship so many people have with this farm,” Harley said.

This summer, the Solteses are hosting a free, five-day camp for kids as a fundraiser for Edison Elementary, where their son Wylie is entering seventh grade. The kids will alternate berry-picking sessions with immersion in creative activities like art, cooking, and storytelling. All sales of camp berries will go to the school.

The Solteses have also opened their farm to three interns, in cooperation with WSU Skagit Extension’s FIELD program, who gain hands-on experience with mentorship in sustainable farming. “They’re great to have around,” Susan said, “because they even help get me motivated. When someone’s waiting for you to teach them, you can’t put the work off.”

The farm is equipped with a processing facility, which the Solteses hope to upgrade to add freezing capabilities. They’re interested in finding like-minded members of the local food community who will use the processing space for cider, wine, jam, and other value-added products.

From mid-July to September, visitors to Bow Hill Blueberries can pick and buy berries, or purchase a Grazing Pass by the day or whole season, entitling them to snack, aka graze, on unlimited blueberries.

For more information about Bow Hill Blueberry Farm, visit www.bowhillblueberries.com. The farm is located at 15628 Bow Hill Road in Bow and can be reached at (360) 399-1006.

Published in the July 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine


One Comment to “Bow Hill Blueberry Farm: Graze the days of summer”

  1. Patsy Bryan says:

    Yay, Susan and Harley! I can’t wait to come pick my blueberries at Bow Hill this year!

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