Farmers help bring blueberries to dry region
By Erick Peterson
For the Capital Press
WAPATO, Wash. — Jeff and Terri Weijohn had a lot of doubts when they first planted blueberries. Now, more than a decade later, they are glad they gave it a try.
The Weijohns’ farm has a storied past.
Jeff’s grandfather, Ervin H. Weijohn, left Canada and came to the Yakima Valley to pick fruit during the day and haul fruit at night. While working around the clock, he saved money and dreamed of buying his own farm, a dream that he realized in 1948.
He purchased land that was already producing cherries and apples and started growing alfalfa, which he sold for hay and seed.
Jeff’s father, Bud Weijohn, started farming in 1956 and grew alfalfa, sugar beets and mint.
Jeff, a member of the third generation, wanted to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps while paving his own course. His wife, Terri, also wanted to try something new. As a student of nutrition, she has long wanted to develop products that would be more healthful.
And they both wanted to find a project that they could do with their three sons, Brady, Zachery and Spencer.
“I was working so many hours that I wasn’t spending any time with my kids,” Jeff said.
He and Terri thought that they could start a crop that would develop as their sons also matured.
They would work out the problems of the crop as a family, giving the young boys a chance to work with agriculture and finance.
To give themselves a challenge, they chose blueberries. As far as they knew, no one else had tried to grow them locally. They had long seen success in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and other locations with wetter climates, but people always told them they could not be grown in the drier, less acidic environment of Central Washington.
They started with four acres, and soon found success. They learned that when they regulated the acidity of the soil, they had a few advantages over berry operations in wetter climate.
For instance, they did not struggle with mold as do farms farther west. Also, they do not need the pesticides necessary in other locations.
The Weijohns said that they have never used pesticides on their blueberries, and this is an important point for them. First, their customers enjoy knowing that their berries are free of pesticides. Second, Jeff and Terri save money by not needing to buy pesticides.
Finding success, they wanted to share the news with their neighbors. In so doing, they found that several nearby farms were also experimenting with blueberries.
It was an idea whose time had come, they said. Now, it is an increasingly common crop in the Yakima Valley.
Also, it has become a growing part of the Weijohns’ business, as they have devoted more and more acres to blueberries.
More important, they said, it has done what they intended. Their boys grew up raising blueberries.
Blueberry Hill Berries
Owners: Jeff and Terri Weijohn
Location: Wapato, Wash.
Crops: Blueberries, apples, grapes and mint
Year started: 1948