Fall Harvest Drives

Bumper Crops: Fall Harvest Drives Offer Delightful Surprises in the Northwest

Fall is time to slow down, look around and enjoy. Once kids return to school, roads become meditative ribbons of beauty as you take in changing colors and embark on mini-adventures. Crisp mornings and the hazy autumn sun add to the joys of discovering farm-fresh apples, pears, pumpkins, pies — even pizzas — at roadside stands and country markets. Taste your way through the day and load the car with ripe fruit to bring home, or bring the kids on a weekend trip that promises bushels of fun.

The Northwest yields a bounty of sights and flavors. Green Bluff Growers near Spokane offers three dozen family farms to visit. The Hood River Fruit Loop features farm stands backed by majestic Mount Hood. The Circle Farm Tour in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley yields fresh-made cheese and other surprises among its harvest offerings. And the Marion Farm Loop near Salem, Oregon, boasts wineries as well as winsome produce stands.

Add in a bumper crop of harvest festivals and standout destination farms, and it’s clear that fall in the Northwest is for foodies and families who love road trips.

Where Apples are King

In the foothills of Mount Spokane, Green Bluff’s Apple Festival in September and October is a community-wide affair with live music, kids’ activities, craft booths, crop mazes and more beyond each farm gate.

Walters’ Fruit Ranch is among Green Bluff’s best-loved farms, in part for its adorable, miniature Icelandic sheep.

“My wife picked up a few sheep at the fair, and now we have 20,” Jason Morrell says as he swings down from the tractor while tending his spread, which he calls the home of the bend-over peach. “When you take a bite you have to bend over, because it’s so juicy.”

U-pick peaches are still available through mid-September, with apples — Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Empire and others — following close behind. Walters’ housemade take-and-bake pies (peach-huckleberry, apricot and caramel-apple, to name a few) are a great way to extend the experience.

Siemers Farm, which makes tangy-sweet apple cider and offers local honey and jams in addition to farm-grown produce, ups the ante on festival weekends with inflatable playhouses, arts and craft vendors and live music.

Fuel your Apple Festival fun at the Green Bluff Grange all-you-can-eat Sunday pancake breakfasts (8-11 a.m. September 29, 2019, and October 6, 13 and 20) and top it all off with apple dumplings at the Green Bluff United Methodist Church.

Goats at Milner Valley Cheese (photo courtesy of Milner Valley Cheese)

Circles of Deliciousness

British Columbia’s Circle Farm Tour is actually five self-guided loops in the Fraser Valley (about 30 miles north of Bellingham), with each loop encompassing 10 to 20 agriculture-related venues, from farms to open-air markets to country eateries.

This verdant farmland that grows crops for the Vancouver area makes for a beautiful — and delicious — country drive with everything you might need for a picnic during a day of exploration. While you might not want the hassle of going through U.S. Customs with a box of fruit upon your return, fruits and vegetables are permissible to bring back into the U.S. if they are clean and labeled as products of Canada, so ask for receipts but be prepared to forfeit fruit that fails inspection.

You’ll meet playful kids and their moms at Milner Valley Cheese, a boutique farm with about 80 dairy goats that produce the milk for styles such as Flavored Jack, which blends cumin, jalapeno and stinging nettles to give the cheese a bite. From May through October, Milner Valley Cheese’s goat-milk gelato is a top draw on weekends, available in flavors such as salted caramel, vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut and lemon.

“We’re a step back in time,” says co-owner Marianne Smith. … “It takes time to age cheese, so we don’t always have the hard cheeses. Every week I make fresh chevre, and curds — or squeaky cheese — are popular.”

At the Local Harvest Market, you’ll find organically grown fruits and veggies, and also breads, pastries and crackly-topped, wood-fired pizzas. For the full experience, book a tour of the gardens and visit the market’s alpacas and pigs.

Fall is big at Krause Berry Farm, which hosts an annual pumpkin weigh-in with an astonishing display of slumpy squashes, some as big as recliners. Pumpkins are also celebrated in a wide array of indulgent delights, including ice cream, pie, waffles, milkshakes and fudge.

Apple trees at Kiyokawa Family Orchards northeast of Mount Hood (photo by Shawn Linehan)

A Fruitful Excursion

The 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop — through fields, farmlands and forests — is a slice of Americana, with quaint country stores and more than two dozen Oregon farms to explore. In fall, this route is ablaze with golden cottonwoods, maples and alders. Plan for a half-day to experience the loop, with surprises around every bend.

Fall is the season for Packer Orchards and Bakery’s famous apple cinnamon rolls and pumpkin cinnamon rolls. The fourth-generation family farm turns 100 this year.

“No preservatives, no artificial flavors. We still hand-make everything,” says Tammi Packer, who with Larry Packer and their three children grow tons of Anjou pears. “And everything we make includes something we grow.”

They use pear concentrate to reduce the sugar in the baked goods they offer in the Farm Store, where you can find sunshine in a jar: jams made onsite from the farm’s fruit, including unusual combinations such as ginger-pear and apricot-jalapeño.

Deep in the Hood River Valley, Mt. View Orchards lives up to its name. Beyond rows of pastel-colored dahlias stretching into the distance, Mount Hood rises like a giant, froth-topped wave. This stop near Parkdale is as much an Instagram hit as it is a fruit hit, with 120 varieties of apples, 20 types of pears, and U-pick opportunities for peaches, plums, pluots and more during September. October brings sweet corn, quince, squash — and free hayrides.

Minto Island Growers co-owners Chris Jenkins and Elizabeth Miller tend to their tea plants (photo by Shawn Linehan)

Taste Sensations

Deeper into Oregon, the Marion Farm Loop offers a scenic drive through pastoral farmland in the Salem area, with 23 gardens, farm markets, wineries and farms. This 120-mile loop from St. Paul to Jefferson offers exceptional views of lush farmland embraced by the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east.

Minto Island Growers’ organic vegetable farm is one of the only farms in the nation growing tea plants. Co-owners Chris Jenkins and Elizabeth Miller sell green, black and oolong tea near a small demonstration garden with sturdy, glossy-leafed tea plants. Their food cart (open through September) utilizes farm-fresh produce in milkshakes, wood-fired pizzas, salads and sandwiches.

Yet more flavors are in store at E.Z. Orchards Farm Market, a family-owned farm that grows pears, apples, hazelnuts and peaches used for their highly sought-after peach shortcake (available from mid-July to mid-September), apple-cider doughnuts and hard apple cider. The fourth-generation farm’s annual harvest festival runs from the last weekend of September through October 31, 2019, celebrating the season with a corn maze, pumpkin patch and petting zoo, with live music, hayrides and horse rides on weekends.

Mother Nature operates on her own timetable, so when planning your farm-country drive, call ahead to make sure the fruits and veggies you’re looking forward to will be available.

But no matter where you choose to aim your car, a fall road trip is a spectacular — and delicious — journey of the senses.

5 Fall Farm Festivities

Fall is harvest festival time throughout the Northwest. Here are our top picks for the whole family:

  1. North of Victoria, British Columbia, the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary on September 29, 2019. The island is famous for its apple orchards, with more than 450 varieties.
  2. South of Portland, Oregon, Bauman’s Harvest Festival at Bauman’s Farm & Garden features farm animals to pet, apple slingshots, an apple cannon, mazes, obstacle courses and rides September 28, 2019 through October 31.
  3. On Hood Canal, Hunter Farms’ PumpkinFest and Catapult Competition on October 26, 2019, features pumpkin-launching catapults and trebuchets handcrafted by local high school students.
  4. North of Spokane, the Harvest Festival at Beck’s Harvest House (weekends, September 21, 2019 through October) offers a 5-acre corn maze, fresh-picked pumpkins, pumpkin doughnuts and live music.
  5. Between Lynden and Bellingham, Bellewood Farms has 62 acres of apple and pear orchards, and a farm store, bakery, café and distillery. Their Harvest Festival (weekends, September 7, 2019 through October), features apple bin train tours, a corn maze and apple-cider doughnuts.
–Written by Leslie Forsberg, who grew up on a heritage farm on the Olympic Peninsula and learned to bake pies and process fruit and jams at an early age. She has traveled hundreds of miles in search of the best fresh peaches, apples and other farm fare across the Northwest.
This story originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

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