Some Oregon pumpkin patches almost got shut down

SAUVIE ISLAND, Ore. — Farmers say a lack of communication between government agencies and conflicting last-minute guidance issued to farms nearly shut down some Oregon pumpkin patch activities.

Farm advocates say visitors to Oregon pumpkin patches this weekend probably had little idea of the “crazy scramble” that happened behind the scenes to keep fall agritourism open.

Since spring, farmers have called Oregon Department of Agriculture, or ODA, and other agencies to ask how to safely operate pumpkin patches this fall.

Then last Thursday at around 5 p.m., less than 48 hours before many pumpkin patches were set to open, the Oregon Health Authority, or OHA, issued a last-minute change to ODA’s guidelines to some farms via email.

OHA’s rule, as interpreted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, an organization enforcing workplace safety, would have disallowed hay rides, corn mazes, tractor rides and similar “interactive” activities for any county still in Phase 1 of reopening. Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties in the Portland area are in Phase 1, as is Malheur County in southeastern Oregon.

“ODA’s previous guide for U-pick and pumpkin patch operations came out early this summer. So this OHA document came completely out of the blue,” said Samantha Bayer, policy counsel at the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Why weren’t the agencies coordinated on this?”

Emails obtained by the Capital Press show the new guidance was based on a chart from Gov. Kate Brown’s office that farm groups say had never been released to the public.

Aaron Corvin, spokesman for OSHA, told the Small Ag Press his agency has overall been nimble and worked hard to communicate clearly, but there have been a few minor hiccups.

“Every now and then, like this case demonstrates, you do … you get a situation where there needs to be some clarification. But from our end, you know, we’re able to pretty quickly get things ironed out and move forward,” said Corvin, who noted that the agencies corrected the miscommunication the next day.

Jonathan Modie, spokesman for OHA, told the Small Ag Press his agency works “really closely” with ODA and OSHA and that communication is “very fluid and collaborative.”

“Oh gosh, we’re working so hard to communicate clearly and listen to businesses. We definitely want to support our farming industries,” said Modie.

The Pumpkin Patch in Sauvie Island, Ore., founded in 1967, was one of the farms that would have been impacted.

Kari Egger, who co-owns the farm with her husband, Bob, said without a hayride option, the farm’s profits would have been hurt because the pumpkin patch lies a third of a mile from the main entrance, and the pumpkins are huge and would be difficult for some visitors to carry.

The pumpkin patch brings in about half of the farm’s annual sales.

The Eggers had prepared for months to open their pumpkin patch with new safety measures. They ditched a tractor-pulled ride for kids. They scrapped the hay maze and hay pyramid. They set up hand sanitizer stations, pre-picked pumpkin displays and signs reminding visitors that masks are required. They even set up online ticket sales.

“We felt like we went over the top,” said Egger.

So when Egger got the unexpected guidance Thursday, she called state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-District 16, who took up the farmers’ cause.

Because of Johnson’s help, just in time for the weekend, the Oregon Farm Bureau and the agencies crafted new rules for pumpkin patches that farmers say are simpler and more fair.

“Betsy Johnson and the Farm Bureau saved our hineys,” said Egger, “and they saved Halloween.”


Record numbers of CSA customers still buying direct from farms this fall

Nearly seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are still buying food directly from farms in record numbers.

When the pandemic struck in March, subscriptions to CSAs — Community Supported Agriculture — spiked. CSA is a partnership between a farmer and customer in which the customer pays for a membership share in exchange for a weekly box of produce, meat or other goods.

The early “run” on CSAs, experts say, made sense. People felt food-insecure, were uncomfortable about grocery stores and were trying to support local producers.

Several food policy leaders who talked to the Small Ag Press in the spring predicted that by fall, CSA sales would drop as people became more accustomed to grocery shopping and unemployed people found they could no longer afford a CSA subscription.

But the numbers tell a different story.

CSA association leaders across the West say they’re still seeing record numbers of memberships.

CSA membership in 2020 has been 167% higher than in 2019, according to Holly Hutchason, executive director of the Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, or PACSAC.

Hutchason said it’s impossible to compare spring-summer numbers to fall-winter numbers, because fewer farms offer winter shares and more consumers purchase summer shares.

“Winter vegetable selections aren’t as popular: cabbage, radicchio, cauliflower, pumpkin. People are only just starting to recognize radicchio is a vegetable. And people can only deal with so much cabbage,” said Hutchason.

She laughed.

But Hutchason said it is possible to compare this fall to last fall. Doing that, she said, makes it clear CSA interest is booming.

According to the national association CSA Innovation Network, many CSA farms nationwide have already sold out or have waiting lists for winter shares.

“Demand from the spring is carrying over, definitely,” said Emily Cooper, owner of Full Cellar Farm. Cooper runs a year-round CSA near Boring, Ore.

Cooper said last year, she never sold all her winter shares; this year, she is sold out.

“I’m almost all the way filled up almost a month in advance of when (the CSA) normally fills,” said Danny Percich, owner of Full Plate Farm in Ridgefield, Wash.

This week, Percich taught a webinar to 15 farmers interested in learning how to winter farm and start or grow a CSA.

According to Hutchason of PACSAC, last year, her coalition of 85 farms had seven farms offering winter shares; this year, there are 23.

Some farmers are concerned CSAs may present challenges in the long term.

Michelle Wyler, a managing director at the California Alliance of Family Farmers, said many farms offer home delivery, customizable boxes, SNAP benefit processing and easy entry and exit — which may set unreasonable expectations for consumers.

But Hutchason said the most successful CSA farms have always been consumer-focused, kept good business records and been flexible — such as those that poll their consumers at the end of each season to find out what worked and what didn’t.

It may be too early to predict the post-pandemic future of CSAs, said Hutchason, but she’s excited about continued consumer interest.


Inslee opens more counties to agritourists

Farms in five counties with a high rate of COVID-19 cases were allowed Monday to offer more tourist activities as Washington’s governor relaxed restrictions on agritourism.

U-pick farms, Christmas tree lots and other agritourism operations in Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin and Yakima counties will be under the same rules as farms in other counties, according to the governor’s office.

All five counties are still in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan to reopen businesses. The governor’s office in August ordered agritourism severely curtailed throughout the state. Operators, farm groups and legislators persuaded the governor’s office to allow some activities in 34 counties.

Washington Farm Bureau said relaxing the rules in Phase 1 counties was great news. “Bottom line is agritourism farms in Phase 1 counties can once again operate corn mazes, hay wagons, fire pits and more, just like is allowed in Phase 2 and 3 counties,” the Farm Bureau said in a notice to its members.

The rules require farm employees and customers to cover their faces and keep 6 feet away from people they don’t live with. Farms must provide hand sanitizer, regularly disinfect commonly touched services and minimize lines.

Some activities remained banned, such as indoor haunted houses, animal petting, inflatable play equipment, and games and activities in which surfaces can’t be cleaned after each use.


Focusing on preserving farms

PORTLAND — As farmers in Oregon are getting older, a seismic shift in land ownership may be on the horizon.

According to a 2016 study by Oregon State University, Portland State University and the Rogue Farm Corps, more than 10 million acres, or 62% of Oregon’s farmland, will change hands over the next two decades. Yet an estimated 81% of producers — whose average age is now 60 — do not have formal succession plans, opening the possibility of non-farm development.

Enter Alice Williamson, whose job boils down to preserving Oregon’s farm and ranch legacy for generations to come.

Williamson was hired in July as program director for the newly formed Oregon Agricultural Trust, working with landowners on keeping valuable farmland in production. Already, Williamson said she has heard from about a dozen farm operators across the Willamette Valley and as far south as near the California border.

“It’s been great. People are calling us,” she said. “I’m optimistic that we are being viewed as a potential partner for a lot of different types of operators.”

The Oregon Agricultural Trust formed in January to increase the pace and scale of farmland conservation statewide. Williamson, who has a law degree from Lewis & Clark College in Portland and previously served as conservation lead for the Columbia Land Trust in Vancouver, Wash., said she has met with a variety of growers, whose operations range from small organic farms to larger vineyards and nurseries.

“We’ve had the chance to talk to landowners across the spectrum,” Williamson said. “For Oregon to maintain its rural communities and our local food supply, we need to protect our farmland from fragmentation and urban development, particularly among our high-value soils.”

Statistics from the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture show that Oregon is already losing farmland. Between 2012 and 2017, the state lost 340,000 acres from production, an area larger than Multnomah and Hood River counties combined.

Maintaining farmland provides community benefits beyond just food production, Williamson said. Sustainable farms can also overlap with values such as fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, carbon sequestration and recreational opportunities.

“All of that is packaged within an economic generator for a community,” she said.

A native of North Carolina, Williamson was drawn to the West Coast for law school after earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental policy from the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

In addition to working at the Columbia Land Trust, Williamson spent five years as a policy program associate at Sustainable Northwest, a Portland-based nonprofit that balances economic and environmental interests in rural communities, and as an associate for U.S. Forest Capital, a consulting firm that works with landowners and conservation groups on the purchase and sale of working forests.

That experience led her to the Oregon Agricultural Trust, which seeks to protect farmland primarily through purchasing conservation easements.

Nellie McAdams, OAT executive director, said they are nearly finished writing their first strategic plan, which will focus first on farm conservation in the Willamette Valley, followed by the Columbia River Gorge, southeast Oregon — including Malheur, Harney and Lake counties — and the north coast.

“Agriculture makes a huge part of our state’s geography, our economy and just the lifestyle and way of life that we cherish as Oregonians. All of that is dependent on land,” McAdams said. “Once it’s paved, you can’t unpave it.”

The Willamette Valley is home to a range of specialty crops and highly valuable soils, Williamson said, yet is under the most pressure from expanding cities. While land conservation easements can take months, if not years, to develop, she said the trust is already talking with landowners about potential projects and partnerships.

“I think we provide farmers with a tool they can use to secure the investments they have made in their land,” she said. “I think it’s the diversity of farmers we’ve heard from that gives me hope that we are being seen as an asset in our communities.”


Preparation was key to saving goat herd

The fresh corn that Dr. Lauren Acton and John Wright planned to preserve on Labor Day is still sitting in their kitchen at their farm near Molalla, Ore. They were sitting in a couple of beat up camp chairs on Saturday 300 miles east in Union, Ore., watching their dairy goat herd adjust to its new surroundings.

Acton and Wright own Tempo Farm, a family goat farm in the Willamette Valley. As fires raged in Clackamas County, they had to move swiftly to prepare to move their 100 goats from their farm all while keeping up with the milking schedule. They prepped the farm and packed their two trailers with supplies all day Labor Day hoping for enough time to make multiple trips to evacuate all the goats. But with fires bearing down on their farm Acton made the hardest list of her life.

“I had to play God,” she said. “I had to make a list of who goes in the trailer first, second, and who doesn’t get in.”

By 10 a.m. the next day the fire was miles away, but they began to feel its heat and knew it was time to go. They had put out an early call for help, and employees, friends, and family were driving toward their farm with trailers from as far away as Washington and California.

They struggled to pack in as many goats as possible, but they prepared to leave 40 behind in an open field with water. They hoped the fire wouldn’t come and the goats could survive if it did.

As they faced this hard reality, they got a welcome call from a friend from California — he had made it to the bottom of their driveway with his trailer. With his help they were able to evacuate all the goats from the farm. Some went to California, some to a friend’s place in Moses Lake, Wash., and rest stayed with Acton and Wright at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds.

Soon, however, the fairgrounds was also under threat. They decided to move again to Grande Ronde Dairy in Eastern Oregon owned by their friends Stephanie and Byron Rovey.

The Roveys were able to offer safety, hay, pens, a secondary milking barn, and even an employee to set up their milking operation temporarily.

“Stephanie and I are colleagues,” said Acton. “But the dairy goat industry is a big family. Stephanie is incredible, and she has saved our hides more than once.”

But Acton and Wright were also very prepared for evacuation. Acton is a veterinarian and has traveled the country showing her prize breeding herd. She’s accustomed to moving animals and she has had a long career managing animal-related crises. In her free moments in the last week, she wrote up a long list of tips for evacuating on her yellow legal pad, hoping to help other people.

“First,” she said, “Do not wait for a level 3 evacuation notice. You cannot evacuate livestock in one hour. Evacuate early.”

“Second, if you have animals, you need a way to contain them safely for loading.” For horses, goats and the like, this means having enough collars and halters on hand for every animal. Cattle should be gathered and ready to load near catch pens and chutes.

Acton said the natural human fear of fire makes it harder to think. She stresses that planning and packing ahead is key. She said medication with dosage instructions, boxes of halters, and some feed should be collected so it is easy to pack and go. She also emphasizes making that “hardest list of your life” ahead of time and marking animals to stay or go clearly with paint.

She suggests bringing everything you would need for your animals in 24 hours. “Hoses, hose splitters, buckets, medication, animal first aid kits, extension cords, portable fencing, tools, wire, and rope are key.”

She also said be prepared to keep your animals in the trailer if you break down or there isn’t room at an evacuation site. “Ventilation in your trailer is key. You also need tarps for shade and weather.”

Finally, she said, don’t forget the “human stuff” like sleeping bags, potable drinking water, a change of clothes, good shoes, medication, cell phone chargers, and most importantly, folding chairs. “Evacuation has meant a lot of waiting around,” she said.

 Evacuation tips

Planning for disasters from the American Veterinary Medical Association

• Assemble an evacuation kit.

• Develop an evacuation plan for all of your animals and practice the plan.

• Keep written directions to your home near your telephone. This will help you and others explain to emergency responders exactly how to get to your home.

• Identify alternative sources of food and water.

• Have well-maintained backup generators and a source of fuel for use in food-animal production operations.

• Keep vehicles well maintained and full of gas.

• Keep emergency cash on hand. (Remember: ATMs may not work.)


Switch to retail, delivery pays off

CARLSBAD, Calif. — A third-generation grower who has been in business for more than three decades, Jimmy Ukegawa has seen plenty of ups and downs, and had to regroup and retool his strategies to adapt with the times.

But the pivot he made as the coronavirus pandemic began and shelter-in-place restrictions were imposed in California has paid off in ways he never expected.

He grows strawberries on 25 acres in Carlsbad, a coastal city in San Diego County, and hosts U-pick days when the public can visit and pick all the berries they want. Before COVID-19 began, he had begun expanding operations, using warehouse space to put up a farmstand.

When the lockdown happened, he realized people needed a safe place to go and he thought shopping outdoors would provide that opportunity, especially for families with children who find it challenging to remain indoors for long periods.

Ukegawa expanded the farmstand into a farmers market of sorts, sourcing locally grown produce and locally made foods such as jam, wine, salsa and guacamole, in addition to strawberries.

“It’s been going gangbusters,” Ukegawa said. “Our business has increased 300% to 400% since the pandemic began. People are looking for places to go where they can do something.”

The fact that he is located right by the Interstate 5 corridor has also helped boost agritourism.

He also began including produce he sources from the wholesale market in the deliveries he makes, enabling area customers to choose a la carte items or buy a produce box that varies from week to week and is delivered to their doorstep.

His oldest daughter, Robyn, manages web orders and posts what will be available for delivery each week. She also helps manage the retail stands that are open from 8 a.m to 5 p.m daily.

Ukegawa makes sure he carefully vets the goods and produce that he sources.

“It’s so important for the products and produce to taste good, so customers come back,” he said. “This is a lot like back in the day when shopkeepers would help customers fill out their grocery list.”

Word-of-mouth referrals have helped boost sales in a region that’s known for its strong community roots.

Ukegawa recalled how different this is from when he worked with his father, who ran a 1,500-acre tomato farm and 200-acre strawberry farm. In those days, he was up until 2 a.m packing boxes of tomatoes. Cheaper imports and the high cost of water meant the family had to wind down the extensive operations and sell land.

He took over in 1996 with 25 acres devoted to strawberries, and is now focused on expanding retail and delivery operations for local goods.

“So many people asked us to continue this after the pandemic, so this will become a permanent part of our business,” Ukegawa said.


Family farm finds success with produce

BUHL, Idaho — Fresh, wholesome and local are the keys to the success of Blue Rock Farms.

Owners Ty and Trenda Regehr transitioned their conventional commodity farm to produce production in 2015 and have learned a lot along the way.

“I’ve always been intrigued with produce. I thought it would be fun; I didn’t know how much work it would be,” Ty said.

In 2014, they started a small wholesale produce venture growing winter squash on 10 acres.

Unfamiliar with the wholesale business, they used a broker and saw no profit.

But it gave them an education. They expanded production and opened a retail store in nearby Twin Falls to sell the farm’s produce themselves.

“The first year, we grew every vegetable you can grow in Idaho,” Trenda said.

They still do and are always pushing their luck a little trying non-regional produce such as okra, she said.

They also grow watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries and partnered with an orchard in Fruitland, Idaho, to make fresh stone fruit available to their customers.

“The big thing is we wanted it to be transparent,” she said.

They keep the stone fruit labeled as to its origin. They also label the avocados they stock, which come from Peru.

Everything grown on the farm is started from seed, except for the seedless watermelon. The farm is set up on drip irrigation for most of the production with gravity irrigation for the sweet corn to avoid getting water on top of the plants, which could leave bacteria.

They’ve also been trying cover crops the last two years for weed suppression between rows and to keep the dirt down to have cleaner plants and cleaner produce.

The farm isn’t certified organic, but its practices are probably the same, Ty said.

They grow more than 30 different crops in succession planting, covering them to protect from frost when needed. Fresh produce is harvested May through November, and they are trying to extend the season with hoop houses and greenhouses.

“All the plants get picked every day while it’s hot,” Trenda said. Otherwise they’d end up with giant produce they can’t sell.

The produce is washed, packaged and cooled on site so it’s fresh and cool when it goes to the store — a popular outlet in Twin Falls.

The store also carries the farm’s grass-fed beef, pastured broilers and pork from non-GMO fed hogs — all USDA inspected. It also stocks dairy products from local artisan dairies, local eggs and honey and baked goods from Blue Rock’s on-farm bakery.

“The store has gotten busier and busier every year,” Trenda said.

It saw traffic of nearly 700 cars on a recent Saturday.

“There’s big demand for locally grown. People want to know where their food comes from,” she said.

This year has been particularly busy with people canning like crazy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Any produce that isn’t sold fresh daily is donated to area food banks or taken back to the farm and fed to the animals.

“There’s hardly any waste at all,” Ty said.

Between the farm and the store, they have 25 people on payroll.

“We’ve been really lucky to have good people who come back, and we try to pay them well,” Trenda said.

The Regehrs are also expanding into wholesale — without the middleman. The reputation they’ve built now has buyers coming to them.

“This year was so busy, there was hardly any extra for wholesale,” she said.


Need sparks home food delivery

ENTERPRISE, Ore. — Last spring the world was shaken by a global pandemic that either sent people home to work or left them unemployed. The shutdown shuttered restaurants and left local producers with nowhere to distribute their food.

Here in the far northeastern corner of Oregon, a unique online marketplace was expanded to allow those producers to sell their crops and products and have them delivered to customers’ doorsteps.

About a year ago, Kristy Athens started an online gift shop called Genuine Wallowa County featuring locally made products. Her five-year plan was to add locally grown food to the online store’s offerings, but the pandemic put that plan on a fast track.

“A couple local producers asked if I would sell food on my website,” Athens said. “They were interested in not having to do their own laborious deliveries.”

Mary Hawkins of Hawkins Sisters Ranch, Theresa Stangel of Stangel Bison Ranch and Beth Gibans of Backyard Gardens started meeting with Athens in January. COVID-19 pushed the idea to the front burner in a hurry.

“It became clear that it was a really good time to offer food delivery to people’s houses so they don’t have to endanger themselves by going to a grocery store,” Athens said. “Meanwhile, restaurants were closed and local producers had nowhere to sell their food. If there is ever a time to be resilient as a county, it’s during a pandemic.”

In 2015 Athens, a writer drawn to the food justice movement, graduated with a master’s degree in food systems from Marylhurst University in Portland.

“I work in economic development and was looking for ways to put those things together,” Athens said. “What I really wanted to do and hopefully still will is create a larger scale incubator farm. Wallowa County has a very strong brand as far as tourism and I think we could use that brand as far as local food production is concerned.”

As the outreach specialist for Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, Athens came across a 2006 economic study. One of the recommendations was to create a Wallowa County brand.

The online gift shop cultivated Wallowa County brand recognition, and GWC Provisions brought food delivery into the mix.

The results from a poll on a community Facebook page were overwhelming. She realized she had a market.

Athens said she started with pre-sale memberships and fundraising for supplies. She received small grants from the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board and Slow Foods Wallowa as well as investments from community members to buy a refrigerator and freezer, design a website and cover other startup costs.

GWC Provisions meat and produce are either delivered to customers’ doors or dropped off in insulated bags at Main Street Motors in Enterprise, a central location for most people in the county.

Athens sells items like chicken, bison, goat, vegetables and fruit, Jor energy bars and Sei Mee Tea and Joseph Creek Coffee. She’s even started selling some of the bounty from her garden — items that don’t compete with her vendors.

Vendors receive 80% of the retail price, and $1 of every sale goes to one of the county’s two food banks. Eventually, Athens said she would like to be able to accept the Oregon Trail card.

Athens says her new online venture put into practice her entrepreneurship and work on food justice.

“I feel like after having talked about food justice for two straight years in grad school it feels good to do something on the ground that has results and is affecting people,” Athens said.


Cooperating small farms may make some COVID-19 changes permanent

Debi Engelhardt-Vogel recently expanded the meat subscriptions and by-the-piece selection she offers at her on-farm store near Kuna, Idaho.

Demand for Vogel Farms meats, eggs, milk and canned items substantially increased with the COVID-19 closures — which prompted some on-farm changes — and remains strong.

Engelhardt-Vogel, who also will introduce beef, pork and chicken bundles this fall, moved to increase her beef supply without expanding her mother herd.

She partnered with Arlington, Ore.-based Weatherford Ranches to bring calves to her small farm for finishing. The first four arrived Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m trying to fill a demand without going big,” Engelhardt-Vogel said. “They have the additional supply needed, so I will be able to monitor supply and go with supply and demand.”

Vogel Farms will also increase on-site pork production, she said. Grandsons Mike and Matt Lester lead the project.

“We’re going to probably triple the number of hogs we produce” to about 30 a year eventually, Engelhardt-Vogel said.

That decision, and plans to soon sell increasingly popular half and whole packaged hogs and cows, reflect strong interest in local food as well as greater awareness of the food supply chain, she said. “The meat supply was disrupted and it had a huge impact on supply. And people didn’t realize how fragile that is.”

Vogel Farms now must schedule meat processing with small-scale local providers farther in advance.

The farm’s meat and eggs are available on-site or through a separate company, Boise Milk, which offers home delivery. Engelhardt-Vogel expects food delivery and curbside pickup to stay popular.

Each August, she begins offering public U-pick harvest of tomatoes, peppers, flowers and herbs. She plans this year to seat customers and offer them breakfast before they form small, well-distanced groups for picking. She has canceled summer and fall hay rides traditionally offered on weekends.

Engelhardt-Vogel and Cathy Cabalo, of nearby Cabalo’s Orchard & Gardens, cooperate on projects through the year. They canceled the 12th annual Corn and Pickle Festival, which is typically on the second Saturday of August at Vogel Farms and draws up to 900 people.

This year, they will instead offer online video versions of the event’s popular classes on topics such as pickling. They plan to resume the festival in 2021, with a lavender garden among the new features.

“So much planning goes into these things,” Cabalo said. “You have to make the call early in the season. There are going to be some sad people, but we will survive it.”

Engelhardt-Vogel and Cabalo also may rework seasonal pumpkin picking and turkey pickup events that draw many customers at once. They are considering offering turkeys at a station reconfigured to encourage distancing, or by curbside pickup.

They may use prepaid sales to reduce wait times. Pumpkin-patch runs likely will see fewer people farther apart.

“I can foresee a great deal of the changes we’ve seen in the past few months continuing,” Cabalo said. Customer pickup of pre-packaged, prepaid orders is an example.

“It’s easier, and people are enjoying it,” Engelhardt-Vogel said of food pickup. “For people who feel at risk or continue to want to maintain a distance, it is a perfect option.”


U-pick farms reopening with safety features

HARRISBURG, Ore. — Customers flocked to Detering Orchards’ U-pick strawberry patch Saturday for the season’s opening.

Sunday, dozens more people picked until plants were bare and the farm was forced to temporarily close its patch, said Detering Orchards’ retail manager Cindy Dixon.

“I think we may see more people this year than ever. It seems like people are becoming a little more aware of where their food is coming from during this time,” said Ella Jones, office manager for Detering Orchards, near Harrisburg, Ore.

Across Oregon, farmers featuring on-farm picking, known as U-pick, are welcoming or gearing up to welcome visitors. Strawberry patches began opening in late May.

Blueberry patches and cherry orchards are set to open mid-to-late June. Experts predict 2020 will be a successful year for U-pick farms, but because of COVID-19, farms are changing safety practices.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture, or ODA, has issued guidance for U-pick farms. Experts at the Oregon State University Extension Service say the additional practices will look different on each farm.

To limit fruit handling, some farms, such as Kiger Island Blues, a Corvallis blueberry farm, plan to sell by the bucket instead of weighing picked fruit. Many farm owners say they plan disinfect tables, gate handles and other surfaces.

Some farms will discourage cash in favor of debit or credit cards, but that is not feasible for some smaller-scale producers. Most U-pick operations will allow customers to bring their own pre-sanitized containers, but some farms will offer optional buckets for purchase rolled into the overall price.

Andrea Davis, co-owner of Kings Valley Gardens, a small blueberry U-pick farm in Benton County, Ore., said she will offer containers for $1 to $1.50.

Most farms will encourage, but not require, guests to wear masks.

Christina Fordyce of Fordyce Farm in Marion County said the farm will assign customers to pick two rows apart, offer a handwashing station, encourage people to pick what they touch and discourage eating while picking.

Keeping pickers spaced apart may be harder on smaller farms, which may choose to do reservation-only, said Melissa Fery, a small farms coordinator for OSU Extension.

Davis of Kings Valley Gardens, the small-scale grower, said she will do a reservation system only if necessary because many of her customers have traditionally been drop-ins. She plans to use flags and signs to promote social distancing.

Because each operation will vary in hours and policies, Fery said she encourages customers to call in advance.

Some industry experts predict 2020 may be a big year for U-pick farms because more consumers during COVID-19 are seeking food security and local sources.

“I speculate the U-pick model will be really popular this year,” said Fery.

Audrey Comerford, agritourism coordinator at OSU, said she also expects to see more U-pick customers statewide this year.

“People are still uncomfortable about how many people touched or washed their food. This is the shortest possible supply chain,” said Comerford.

U-pick farms, she said, also offer an outdoor activity for people feeling cooped up.

“I’m happy I’ll be able to provide a fun outing,” said Davis, the blueberry grower.

Dixon of Detering Orchards said customers were “so happy” to pick strawberries this weekend.

“This is a crazy time, but when people were picking, they looked really peaceful,” she said.