Overcast and early, a friend and I arrived at the Blueberry Park in Tacoma armed with buckets and totes, intent on making our haul. We had discussed the best time to forage in the city, briefly wondering when dawn actually cracked in the morning; we didn’t want to be lost among the crowd of weekend blueberry hunters.

We arrived and as we walked up the paved paths and through the rows of bushes, we realized that perhaps we were too early. Berries were decidedly green, with one in each cluster a startlingly plump purple. My friend calls this her “Tomato Principle”: One ripe fruit in each cluster releases natural ripening chemicals that tells the rest of the fruit to ripen. In a week, the bushes would be dripping with ready fruit.

Metro Parks and a group of volunteers keep this little-known park cleared and groomed for use by the public. We explored row after row of the 400+ man-sized, semi-wild blueberry bushes, eventually picking over 2 quarts of berries while still enjoying a fresh-picked breakfast.

As we plucked, we chatted with each other and the other harvesters that arrived and wandered through our area. At one point, I heard someone ask at large, “What are you going to use these berries for?”

The calls came back and forth energetically through the bushes:

“Jelly!”
“I’m gonna use ‘em in my juicer!”
“Nom-nom, eating!”
“Gonna freeze for winter!”
“Or smoothies!”
“Pancakes!”

There was a pause, then from a different area, “Man, now I want pancakes.”

After the laughter, we heard a small girl running excitedly through the bushes, unseen, “Grandma! Grandma! I found blackberries!”

A cross-hatch of Tacoma wanders through the bushes. College guys with gallon-sized bags and bags lining recycled buckets. Young parents with children excitedly playing and snacking on the berries from the lower branches. Grandparents, singles, men, women, all races, chatting and picking and being friendly.

The Blueberry Park is really a lesser-known treasure in Tacoma. Formerly an abandoned blueberry farm, the park was rescued by city grants and now encompasses 20 acres. There are 5 different types of blueberries planted; there’s plenty to please any palette.

Volunteers meet at the park every Saturday to help maintain the bushes and pathways. Invasive blackberries and raspberries are held in check by goats that the city rents as needed. The blueberries are free to anyone who wants to pick them.

A former farm in the middle of Southside, this city park helps to show a connection of what we eat and where it comes from.

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