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May 29, 2014

Valley farms have bumper crops of blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, more

Berry fans will be happy to know that a mild winter has delivered a bountiful crop of blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and olallieberries.

Sweet, slightly tart and highly nutritious, berries are rolling into Valley farmers markets and fruit stands.

Berry fans will be happy to know that a mild winter has delivered a bountiful crop of blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and olallieberries.

Loretelli Farms, a produce stand on Claratina Avenue north of Modesto, expects to have boysenberries through next week and strawberries and blueberries well into summer.

“The quality is there,” owner Bill Loretelli said. “The weather has been great.”

Berries are a niche product in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, but if you like them, now is the time to seek them out at farm stands, farmers markets and pick-your-own places.

San Joaquin County has a sizable blueberry crop, worth about $20.6 million to growers in 2012, according to its agricultural commissioner.

“The berries have loved this weather,” said farmer Gayle Willems, also known as the Berry Lady, who sells berries and jams at her farm store, 39771 Road 28 in Kingsburg. “We have had a bumper crop.”

The demand for berries gets stronger every year, she says, as more consumers look for healthy foods. Berries are high in antioxidants and vitamin C. Others love berries for old-fashioned reasons, including making jams, jellies and pies.

Willems’ Ruby boysenberries are especially sought after. The big berry, named after her mother, has a subtle sweetness and reddish color. Customers like to use it for jams, baking and snacking.

Farmer John Olivas’ small pick-your-own operation, Rancho Notso Grande in Hanford, has blueberries, blackberries, olallieberries, boysenberries and raspberries. Like other farmers, he has a bumper crop, especially of olallieberries. The berry is growing in popularity and is a favorite of those who grew up on the Central Coast or in the Pacific Northwest.

To those unfamiliar with the berry, Olivas said it tastes like a slice of berry pie.

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