If you’ve spent a summer in southwest Michigan in the last hundred years or so, it’s a safe bet you’ve been blueberry picking. Or someone’s invited you blueberry picking. Or at least mentioned blueberry picking. In fact, if you make it through a lakeshore stay without a single mention of blueberries, we’ll wonder if you ever left the cottage.
Why? Because blueberries love the lakeshore as much as people do. The acidic, sandy soil and Lake Michigan’s moderating effect on temperature—cooler summers and warmer winters—make the native plant happy enough to produce berries for nearly the entire summer season, July through September.
This early, mid, and late-season cycle brings a remarkable assortment—about 30 varieties—each with a distinct flavor, size, and texture. For perspective, Michigan blueberry farms, particularly in the southwest, grow an average of 92 million pounds on 20,000 acres, making it among global leaders in production.
But despite that handy geek note, nearly half of southwest Michigan blueberries are sold via local markets and u-picks. And that desire to keep things hyper-fresh, local, and connected to consumers is where the magic happens. Yes, you could go to the grocery store and buy blueberries from wherever. But the tradition of an annual u-pick trip is so much more. Adventure, fresh air, sunlight, and a momentary chance to be part of the team that brought food to your table. There’s just something intuitively, delightfully mindful about it. Plus blueberries! Enough for the day, week, or even year.
Here’s how to u-pick like a pro:
Call (or check the farm’s social media page) a day or two in advance as weather conditions and u-pick volume may require brief breaks in the harvest.
Pick blueberries that are really blue! Any trace of red or green means they need more time on the bush.
Let fresh-picked (sun-warmed) blueberries cool before you place them in a closed container.
Wash blueberries just before you eat or cook them. Washing too far in advance will make them mushy. Even if you freeze, wait to wash until you’re ready to eat.
Freeze blueberries in a single layer first. Once frozen, berries can be loaded and stacked in large containers.
Fresh-picked blueberries will keep 10-14 days when refrigerated shortly after bringing them home from the farm.
Happy harvesting! Find our favorite farms within 5-25 minutes of New Buffalo listed (and linked) below.
words Collette DiJohn Kemper
images Jodi Bodtke