Blueberries, cherries, and apples, oh my! Rainier Fruit is a family owned company in Washington State that specializes in growing produce you will see in many grocery stores all across the country. Just look for their Rainier Fruit brand. They’ve sponsored this peek into the process of growing organic blueberries.
We were recently invited to the Rainier Fruit packing sheds to give you an inside glimpse of the process of delivering fruit from the orchard to your table and as you read on you might find the process is a little different than you envisioned it.
Rainier Fruit is known for growing apples, but they also grow pears, cherries, and organic blueberries, which they have grown for the last 10+ years. When they started growing blueberries conventional growing wasn’t even an option for them. They saw the demand for quality organic produce and knew they wanted to be known exclusively for growing and selling organic blueberries rather than starting with conventional and then tackling the process of switching over to organic growing practices later.
Planting, growing, and selling blueberries seems so simple – you plant the bush, you pick the fruit, you send it to market. Think again! I have a couple blueberry bushes and I just started learning how much work it is. It’s amazing how inexpensive fruit truly is when you learn the process and expense that goes into it. Are you ready to take the journey of a blueberry from the bush to you?
Planting Rainier Fruit Organic Blueberries
It starts with planting the bush. Ryan Dragoon is the “field guy” and we could tell he loves what he does. I’ve always been a why and how person, just ask my poor mother, and I so enjoyed chatting with him about what he does to ensure healthy bushes and berries. Here is just a small snapshot of some of the things he needs to study and experiment with for optimal growing conditions.
- Which blueberries grow and produce the best for the area they are growing in
- How to prepare the soil for the best growing conditions
- Properly prune the bush
- Figure out what type of netting works the best to not only protect the crop from birds but also aid in the ripening process – black or white nets, proper thickness to keep temperatures and lighting right so they ripen at the rate needed to pick them and keep them at just the right temperature.
- Making sure the bush gets the proper nutrients while it grows.
Picking Rainier Fruit Organic Blueberries
- Keeping track of when the fruit will be ripe and optimal flavor.
- Hiring workers to pick the fruit – not one time around but second and third passes of every bush because not all berries ripen at the same time.
- Ensuring workers have safe picking conditions (This New Englander says from experience that it can get wicked hot out under that beating sun – we felt just a taste of it and have a whole new appreciation for pickers who help get the fruit to our tables.)
Packing & Shipping Rainier Fruit Organic Blueberries
Then it goes to the packing and shipping process. We had a great time with Aaron DeHerrera from the Rainier Business Development & Marketing team and Nick Schram who heads up blueberry production management as we toured the packing sheds for not only cherries and apples, but blueberries, which were our focus for the day. The packing process is incredibly time sensitive. The blueberries need to be picked, cooled, and packed in as little time as possible as they are highly perishable. Here are some of the things required for this job.
- Machinery to take the berries on their journey to the container without bruising them
- Sorting machines to get rid of the stray unripened or damaged berries
- This sorter is followed by more workers who go over the sorted berries a second time to make sure nothing slips by
- Then the berries continue on their journey to the scale where they are weighed and packed in containers, then on to the labeler where they get the label and seal that identifies where they are from and the orchard selling them
- After this they go onto a pallet in a cold room to wait for the tractor trailer to load them up and take them on their way to the grocery store
- And through this whole process, we can’t forget the amount of food safety training and certification Rainier Fruit goes through to ensure they deliver a safe product to us
Aside from the awe-inspiring behind the scenes look that I got at Rainier, here are a few more things I learned.
5 Facts about Blueberries
- The white “dust” on blueberries is something called “bloom”. Blueberries produce it naturally to help protect the berry.
- Never wash your blueberries until you are ready to eat them. Washing them removes the bloom and makes them go bad faster.
- 1 moldy or soft blueberry doesn’t ruin the whole container. Remove it as soon as you find it to avoid wasting the whole container.
- When buying blueberries choose containers that have plump firm berries.
- The very best way to enjoy blueberries is one handful at a time, per Nick who has worked with blueberries for 10 years.
Did you miss our behind-the-scenes look at the packing shed? Check out our live, on the scene interview at the packing shed. Yes, those are forklifts you hear, busy transporting berries and pallets to get those blueberries to market as quickly as possible. And head to your store now! Rainier blueberries will be available until early October or while supplies and harvest last!
Rainier Fruit Giveaway!
Rainier Fruit has a giveaway going on right now. Make sure you enter then come back later this week for a deliciously savory blueberry recipe and another giveaway of a full case of apples just for my readers.