My sister-in-law says picking fruit at Green Bluff is better than Prozac.
She lives about a mile from that lovely agricultural wellspring northeast of Spokane, so I’ve often been the lucky beneficiary of the fruits of her stress-reducing labors.
Last Sunday, I made my own pilgrimage to Green Bluff, my first in quite a few years.
It’s about a 40-minute drive from Coeur d’Alene, taking the interstate into bustling Spokane Valley, almost to Spokane, and then exiting onto Argonne Road to head north.
Within minutes, the city falls behind you and once you pass the intersection of Bigelow Gulch Road, you descend into a wide open space with fields of golden wheat, that roll, Palouse-like, for several miles. The landscape is dotted with the occasional barn, silo or cluster of trees shielding a house.
Soon, Argonne Road turns into Bruce Road and you begin to ascend out of the late-summer-bronze farm fields to E. Day Mt. Spokane Road where you can turn right or left to take Green Bluff’s East or West Loop.
Green Bluff is unique. It’s dense with farms and orchards over 12 square miles.
The Green Bluff Growers Association, with 62 members and several associate members, was founded in 1902 to protect local strawberry growers from outside competition. Today, the association helps members with marketing and tourism.
While there are dozens of types of fruits and vegetables grown and sold at farms and food stands on the bluff, there are summer seasonal favorites.
Generally, through June and July, it’s strawberry time. Cherries are in their prime in July, and August is the month for peaches.
For me, last Sunday was a great day for blackberries.
I stopped at Eleven Acres Farm, 10909 E. Day Mt. Spokane Road, and found what appeared to be far more than 11 acres of all types of produce to pick. I was right, the farm has grown to 54 acres since 1992 when the Hunt family purchased it.
This is a no-frills, serious picking experience that begins and ends at the Eleven Acres store, a spartan affair with tables holding scales and a couple displays with raw honey for sale. You can pick up boxes and buckets for your harvest at the store, and outside, there are wagons to be pulled through the rows and rows of bushes, plants and trees bearing ripening gifts.
With so much to choose from, I decided to look around before deciding what to pick.
A couple walked past me with boxes of blackberries that looked huge.
“They’re like baseballs,” the woman said to her picking partner, as she passed.
That piqued my interest.
I walked past rows of rhubarb, swiss chard, parsley, tomatillos, zucchini and pickling cucumbers. There were fields of corn, peach orchards, blueberry bushes and patches of U-pick flowers. Throughout the farm, clusters of sunflowers towered over nearby produce.
When I found the blackberry arbor, beyond the tomato patch and an orchard of nectarines that were still ripening and not ready to be picked, I didn’t find baseball-sized blackberries. But they were plenty big, juicy and sweet.
Once I plucked a nice pile of the biggest, blackest berries from the vines, I headed back toward the store to have my pickings weighed and to pay for them.
As I walked, I thought, my sister-in-law is right, this does feel good. It’s a great way to get a little exercise, and you can do it your own way. You can bend and pick, reach and pick. You can go as slowly or as quickly as you want. I looked around and saw people of all ages and physical abilities picking and plucking.
Once my berries were weighed, I paid for them. At $2.25 per pound, they were a great deal, since they cost around $4 a pound at the grocery stores right now.
I got in my car and further explored Green Bluff from the road. There’s more to Green Bluff than fruits and veggies. There are a couple breweries, a meadery, a cidery and a winery. I saw a pottery shop, a Christmas tree farm and an antique seller.
My next stop was Beck’s Harvest House, 9919 E. Green Bluff Road, which is very different from the farm I’d just visited. With a country kitchen, and a gourmet food and gift shop, Beck’s feels more like a destination than a farm stand or pure U-pick operation, although Beck’s orchards are available for public picking.
The Harvest House store opens onto a big patio with tables and umbrellas overlooking the orchards. As I walked up the hill from the parking area, I could hear live music coming from a gazebo. A solo singer/guitar guy performed a Led Zeppelin cover: “Ramble on, and now’s the time, the time is now. To sing my song.”
While I was there, the performer’s audience listened to a Beatles cover and a Queen cover while consuming Beck’s famous pumpkin doughnuts and other treats.
It started to rain a bit, usually a downer. But on this smoky, late August Sunday, it was a mood lightener. There was no mass exodus to escape the falling drops.
“I want to do a rain dance,” said the happy cashier at Beck’s, as I paid for some peaches.
A visit to Green Bluff can be whatever you make it - a straight-up farm experience or something more touristy.
Either way, it’s a great reason to take a drive into the country and enjoy a taste of farm life.
For more information, visit: greenbluffgrowers.com