The four Guerrier siblings scamper from bush to bush on a recent August afternoon, shrieking as they find another cluster of fresh berries to drop into their quickly filling buckets.
Families like the Guerriers often find these treasures among the 2,100 bushes that comprise the 5-acre, Higher Taste Blueberry Farm, a hidden gem on the waterfront of Auburn’s Lake Dolloff. Home to eight varieties of blueberries, the all-organic farm is celebrating its 65th anniversary this summer.
Gazing over a low fence, visitors find rows of blueberry bushes dotted with pesky blackberry shrubs in thick, overgrown rows. The six-to-seven-foot-high bushes obscure the immediate view of Lake Dolloff, instead encouraging visitors to wander down a marked path to the waterfront.
The overgrown bushes close in the aisles, but the thinner stems near the ground create maze-like trails at the perfect height for kids to discover plentiful, untouched places in the middle of the farm.
“All of a sudden you’ll hear, ‘We hit the motherload,’” said Mary King, owner of the Higher Taste Blueberry Farm and the third owner in its history. “There will be tons of berries because no one knew to go in there.”
The original owners, the Olsons, planted the first blueberry bushes there 65 years ago.
While botanists will tell you these plants typically have only a 60-year lifespan, King said, there’s a peat bog under the farm, and water seeping into that bog from nearby Lake Dolloff nourishes and hydrates the blueberry bushes, which could be to thank for the farm’s longevity.
“I’m wondering what’s going on because I don’t see any slow down with these producing,” King said of the blueberry bushes.
All of the blueberry bushes that the Olsons planted in 1954 still thrive today. The Olsons owned and cared for the farm for 43 years before they sold it to a neighbor in 1998. Seven years later, King, a Federal Way resident, purchased the farm on the 51st anniversary season.
“It’s still a mystery,” she said of the blueberry farm’s growth. “I’ve had it for 15 years, and I still learn all the time.”
A trickling creek runs alongside the western edge of the property, and a red shed marks the entrance on the east side of the farm. Nearby is a rowboat-turned-play structure, which King painted to match the shed.
Marked by an Auburn address, the U-pick farm is close to Kilo Middle and Lake Dolloff elementary schools in Lakeland North.
The original farm grounds, which once spanned 38th Avenue South, included 3½ more acres than the farm does today. The second owner of the blueberry farm, however, kept the additional acreage when he sold to King County. That land became home to goats and brahman cows, and even some thoroughbred racing horses that would later compete at Emerald Downs.
“People say the blueberries here taste better than any other farm,” King said.
As a real estate agent, King realized that the farm’s size and its waterfront footage were rarities in the area.
“I feel like I was the perfect person to find it,” she said.
Unlike others who would most likely have looked at the farm as a financial goldmine to be turned into something else or who would have gotten rid of the farm, King wanted to preserve the tradition.
When King bought the property, a group of protective community members asked her what she intended to do with the farm, King recalled.
“I like the idea of healthy food for people, and that I didn’t spray it,” King said. “Everybody was so worried when I first bought it … They were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to spray it.’”
King assured the community she’d never use pesticide on the plants as long as she owned the farm.
“I just know that no matter what happens, I’ll never spray here.”
The blueberry season generally runs from July to September, although this year, King said, it may very well extend into early October.
U-pick blueberries sell for $2.50 per pound, and pre-picked options are also available with raw organic honey from the farm’s beehives.
Advertising is primarily by word-of-mouth, King said, and that’s how the gem stays sacred, but the farm suffers no shortage of visitors.
“It’s everybody, kids, families, elderly,” King said of the clientele.
Recently, King spoke with three ladies in their 60s who were visiting the farm. They mentioned that when they were girls, they’d get paid 10 cents an hour to pick blueberries. Many of today’s visitors had also helped the original owners tend the farm decades ago.
“People really love it, they just really love it,” she said. “Sometimes I get here in the morning and there will be a whole string of cars waiting.”
An after-dinner rush is common, as are weekend crowds, King said.
The grounds are essentially a commercial-sized farm being operated as a mom-and-pop farm by King and a small network of volunteers.
As long as the plants continue to produce the blue superfood, the farm will be around, perhaps for generations to come.
“I hope it stays here, kind of forever,” King said. “[The blueberry bushes] seem so healthy … they’ve just kind of gotten wild. People come over here and there’s berries galore. So I think there’s something to be said for letting them go wild.”
Volunteer blueberry pickers needed
So many berries, so few hands. If you are interested in volunteering at the blueberry farm, contact owner Mary King at 206-579-0214. Volunteers receive free berries for their help and time.