This post is sponsored by our partners at North Bay Produce.
We are back with another tour of the North Bay Produce’s Michigan Blueberry Farms!
Summer is synonymous with the blueberry season in Michigan. And If you drive the western coastline of Michigan, you will see blueberry farms . Over 65 million pounds of juicy blueberry goodness comes from The Great Lakes State which equals around 32% of the total North American crop. We all love that blueberries are packed full of antioxidants, Vitamin C and potassium. It is a true superfood! Blueberry season typically runs from late June through early October in Michigan, so summer is the perfect time to visit these family-owned blueberry farms.
North Bay Produce is a grower owned fruit and vegetable cooperative nestled in Traverse City, MI. Grower members from around the world including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay provide year-round fresh commodities like apples, asparagus, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. Many of North Bay Produce’s growers are second, third, and even fourth generation farmers.
We recently went back up to Ottawa County, Michigan to see the blueberry farming operation up close and personal. From the farms to packing, we got to see where America’s favorite little blue fruit comes from and how it makes its way to our table.
Crossroads Blueberry Farm
Our first stop was a plant tour at Crossroads Blueberry Farm in West Olive, MI. We were met by owners Dave and Kelly Reenders. We were able to see blueberries arrive at the plant. Upon arrival, they are labeled and placed in cooling storage, and the production line where berries are sent on the conveyor belt for sorting. Bruised, off-color, and berries with defects are sorted for seconds while top-quality berries go on to be packed for North Bay.
While we were at Crossroads watching the blueberry packing operation, we were able to see the new North Bay packaging on the line. The first thing that you notice is the larger North Bay Produce logo. It is also important to note that the new packaging has the American Heart Association seal. North Bay sought and has been certified by the American Heart Association’s Heart Check Food Certification program for its fresh produce.
The new packaging designs have vibrant, fresh and clean colors. They want consumers to quickly recognize that North Bay’s produce is clean, fresh and great quality. The slogan “From our farms to your family. Naturally.” signifies the freshest produce right from where it is grown to you, while always using the best practices to assure the healthiest and finest tasting produce. Naturally.
Next we visited Lakeside Pic-N-Pac in Grand Haven, MI. While we were there, we got an exclusive tour of their blueberry fields. Out in the fields, we were able to watch the top-load harvester” slowly go up and down the rows harvesting the perfect berries. As the machine goes down each row, it gently shakes the plants so that ripe berries fall into a catching frame. They are brought to the top and sorted into bins that will go directly to refrigeration.
Harvesters have been proven to reduce the harvesting costs as much as 50%. They can also be more efficient than traditional hand picking for product overall berry recovery. And to run the harvester efficiently, you only need 2-3 people. One person to drive the harvester and another person or two on top to pack the bins. As labor shortages across agriculture continue to happen, we will probably see more farms invest in harvesting machinery.
Bowerman Blueberry Farm
Our last stop was back to Bowerman’s to visit the Farm Market. The Bowerman Farm Market sells pre-picked, fresh blueberries that are ready to take home. The market sits on over 90 acres of blueberry farms.
They also sell some of the most delicious blueberry-flavored baked goods, ice cream, slushies and much more! One of our favorite things to get is their famous blueberry donuts. Hudsonville Ice Cream even added a limited edition flavor featuring the blueberry donuts. The ice cream combines traditional vanilla Hudsonville ice cream with a swirl of blueberry and chunks of blueberry donuts from Bowerman.
The Market also offers a large variety of other locally grown fruits and vegetables. They sell several other popular items: candles, soaps, t-shirts, hats and more! The Market is always buzzing with excitement for new and returning visitors. Just outside the Market, they also have the U-Pick fields for people who want to hand pick their own blueberries. The options are limitless at Bowerman’s (and you won’t leave hungry)!
Pick for Pantries with Ottawa County Blueberry Farms
It was great to see so many of the farms that we visited are participants in the Ottawa Food “Pick for Pantries” program. The program allows U-Pick patrons at participating Ottawa County produce farms to donate a portion of their pick to local food pantries on select dates during the growing season. It is a great way for both the farms and the community to give fresh produce to those in need.
More with North Bay Produce Blueberries
Hungry? One of our favorite, new blueberry recipes is Shrimp Tacos with Blueberry Mango Slaw. From the fresh fruit to the savory shrimp, there’s a lot to love in these street tacos! You can enjoy it with a Blueberry Frozen Margarita.
Also try the Berry Chia Pudding and Blueberry Yogurt Pops from North Bay Produce’s recipe collection. Blueberries are a sweet addition to so many meals — try adding a handful of fresh or frozen berries to baked goods, smoothies, yogurt parfaits, or even as an ice cream topping. Don’t leave your pup out, dogs love blueberry treats including these easy to make Banana and Blueberry Pupsicles!
Recently on Indy Style, Lori and Sharon Robb of North Bay Produce shared some incredible blueberry recipes for back to school. They kicked off the show with Baked Blueberry Banana Oatmeal Cups that you can make ahead and freeze making them an easy and healthy grab-and-go option in the morning. They also made a Blueberry Chia Jam with Ginger that is great on breads, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches and much more. You can watch the full episode here.
If you want to extend the life of your favorite little berries, you should consider pickling blueberries to extend the season. It’s simple and all you need to get started is a mason jar. First, you will slice up some red onions and then start layering them in the mason jar with the blueberries! And yes, you want to go all the way to the top! In a small bowl mix together, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sugar & kosher salt. You want to make sure you mix well so that the sugar dissolves. Pour into the mason jar, close the lid and refrigerate!