MILTON-FREEWATER — The first time Argentina-born Gabriel Alarcon ate a blueberry, it was from a local supermarket.
He and his farming partner and wife, Heather Alarcon, had just invested sweat equity and money into planting rows of the fruit on their property on County Road, which weaves around the outskirts of town.
“I planted blueberries without knowing what a blueberry tastes like,” Gabriel Alarcon said with a generous laugh.
“The first one I tasted was from Safeway, and I got so depressed I wanted to plow it all under.”
That was 10 years ago, and if ever there was a summer to reward their perseverance, it’s this one.
This is the seventh harvest for Bluewind Berry Farm, and it is a doozy. The berries, rounded to nearly bursting, are sweet from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat.
“This year, they are so heavy the branches are to the ground,” Gabriel Alarcon said.
The couple, parents of three boys from 28 to 17, have been married 30 years and undertaken a variety of adventures.
“I was 19. We met when I was 15, and he was 17. I went to boarding school in Argentina,” Heather Alarcon said.
“Actually my roommate was interested in his roommate, and they set us up on a double date.”
She was there as a part of a family tradition. Her father, Ole Oleson, a longtime Seventh-day Adventist pastor, set out on his own overseas quest at age 16. Thus when his teenager wanted to follow good friends back to their homeland and attend school in that country, parental resistance was easily overcome, Heather Alarcon said.
Such travel has given the Alarcons an appreciation for The Rocks District American Viticultural Area — what the soil here does for wine, it is doing for blueberries, Gabriel Alarcon said.
The accumulation of sediments trapped by the hills surrounding Milton-Freewater results in rocky ground ideal for lending unusual character to wine grapes, he said.
“There are only two places on earth like this: here and in France. It’s good drainage for the berries, and the minerals are good for their flavor.”
Terri Deleon and Nelly Ochoa seem to agree. On Thursday, July 15, the two friends were plucking away as fast as they could in the U-pick operation, undeterred by an evening sun beating down without mercy.
“It’s something fun to do,” Deleon said. “I mostly pick for desserts, my blueberry bread and jam.”
Ochoa, who would gather more than 8 pounds of juicy goodness, gave a knowing nod. “My blueberry salad,” she said. “It’s good.”
This year, the fruit is $4 a pound at the U-pick price, and most people come to harvest large quantities for freezing, Heather Alarcon said, noting there are about two more weeks to this season.
The business also sells sorted and prepackaged blueberries.
Bluewind Berry Farm grows Duke and Chandler blueberries, chosen for their pollination compatibility.
The Chandler berry is known for its sweet and exceptionally large fruit, according to World Fresh Exports Inc., while the Duke is an early ripening variety and a “favorite among retailers for its sweet flavor, large berry size and firmness.”
The varieties take up 2 of the nearly 10 acres owned by the Alarcons.
The hope and plan is to cultivate more. Gabriel Alarcon just ended his trucking business and expects to devote his working hours to the farm operation, he said.
That said, their sons are not necessarily interested in farming the fruit, Heather Alarcon conceded.
“In fact, the oldest one told us from the beginning this was a bad idea. But he’s the one out here helping me today.”