|Don’t take local berries for granted
July 10th, 2008
Carrie Sikorski / for the Pierce County FARM Board
The News Tribune (The Herald, Tacoma, Washington)
One day a number of years ago, George Richter picked up the phone in the office of his modest farmhouse in Fife, and a caller with a heavy French accent identified himself as Gerard, the Gerard, of Gerard’s Relais de Lyon, the premier French restaurant in the greater Seattle area. His next remark went to the point of his call, “Here we are, both in the Northwest…So why do I have to go to a restaurant in New York to taste your fantastic berries?”
Indeed, Richter Premium Berries, which were by then being served in some of the top restaurants in New York and Atlanta, have enjoyed a national, if not international reputation for their amazingly sweet flavor. But that reputation was unknown to me when one of my first “farmbudsman” assignments introduced me to George Richter this past winter.
I drove out to George’s residence in Fife on a cold, gray morning. The property was tucked between a sprawling, multi-family residential development and a block of warehouses. George’s modest home was surrounded by about 15 acres of trellises aligning tightly coiled vines which were being tended by workers in raingear, one of whom was George’s wife. George and I sat in his kitchen and he told me about his family’s history in the valley and the eventual farming niche that his brand came to occupy.
The catalogue he showed me displayed a mouth watering array of gooseberries, yayberries, nectarberries, white currants, red currants, black currants, red raspberries, gold raspberries and blackberries, a tempting palette in a professional full color layout.
As a proponent of “eating local” I wondered why these quality berries weren’t in markets closer to home. George said he used to sell locally, but it seemed that every year the price went lower until one day a buyer who had prearranged a purchase price showed up at the farm when the berries were at their peak.
“The buyer took a phone call right in front of me and told me that he had another farmer on the line who was willing to beat my price. Whether that was true or the conversation was staged, I never knew,” he said.
But what George did know was that he was tired of being a “price-taker,” watching his profit deflate to nothing, all the while knowing that his product was superb.
George Richter passed away this winter, leaving his fields in the care of other skilled hands. As he told a reporter a few years back, Puyallup Valley berries are the sweetest in the country, if not the world, because of our climate and soils. Let us not take our destiny for granted.
Berry season is measured in weeks, so don’t miss out on the berries that New Yorkers covet. Visit your local farmstand soon, as Duris Farm, Spooner Farms, Scholz Farm, Terry’s Berries, Picha’s Berry Farm, Linbo Farm, Sidhu Farms, Fred’s Berries, Bluefarm Blueberries, Foxberry Farm and others are open for business, selling the freshest, sweetest berries direct from the fields to you.
If you need help with directions check out the farmWeb sites and maps at either or both of these Web sites: www.pugetsoundfresh.org and www.localharvest.org.