“I feel lucky to be in Skagit Valley, and on a farm…”
Bow Hill Blueberries is one of the oldest blueberry farms in Skagit County: Stanley, Rubel, and Jersey varieties have been rooted in the Valley’s soil since 1947. These varieties are among the few that breed true — passing the same characteristics from generation to generation, providing the consistency in flavor, tastes, and nutritional value from year to year. With an extended growing season the harvest period runs longer, allowing Bow Hill to provide the community with delicious fresh blueberries until mid-September. And their store is open all year, stocked with frozen blueberries, ice cream, and blueberry products that pair beautifully with both sweet and savory dishes.
Harley and Susan Soltes purchased Bow Hill in 2011. The farm had been operating conventionally and producing Heirloom blueberries for nearly 64 years, but as new owners, the Soltes family (including daughter Amelia and son Wylie) was driven to make the switch to USDA certified organic; a challenge that would require a full team effort. The work to rejuvenate the farm to organic took three years: the farm has been producing organic blueberries since 2014. Focusing more on organic heirloom value-added products for the whole sale and retail markets, rather than fresh produce sales, the Soltes family has found their niche in transforming their berries into a wide range of products from the approximately 4,500 bushes grown on their farm each year.
With the addition of an organic processing kitchen attached to their farmstand, the Soltes can create their main value-added products, such as Blueberry Juice, Confiture, Blueberry Powder, Blueberry Marinade, Salad Dressing and much more. “We freeze about 80 percent of what we harvest each year,” said Susan. “That way, we can not only employ our workers year-round, but also continue to make our products.” Freezing the berries is also a storage method that can help seal in the nutritional value that blueberries offer. With the high sugar content Heirloom blueberries, even in their frozen form they are able to hold their freshly picked taste — and value.
With the COVID-19 pandemic working its way through Washington State, Bow Hill along with so many other farmers, is forced to make necessary changes to comply with the statewide social distancing mandate. “We have installed a walk-up window with a plexiglass shield, that way we are protecting our customers and employees that might be handling a transaction,” Susan explain. Expanding sanitation practices and rotating shifts to help keep their team employed while honoring the social distancing have been difficult, Susan expressed, but they’re making it work.
When asked what brings them optimism in such a difficult time, Susan said, “I feel lucky to be in the Skagit Valley on a farm. We’re producing something good, makes us proud that we offer something important that is nourishing and can brighten up someone’s day.” These passionate words ring true: when you talk to anyone connected to farming in the Skagit Valley, no matter the size or type, we live and work in a special place.
As always, the best way to support the local farms we love so much is buying local, and Bow Hill has made the necessary adjustments to make that easier for everyone. In addition to their walk-up window, you can order and pay online and Bow Hill will have your selection ready for pick-up at their store.
If you’d like to learn more about Bow Hill Blueberries, the products they offer, where they’re located, and how you can get your hands on some of their marvelous treats, visit their website, their Facebook page, or follow their journey on Instagram.