All is not lost—you can still pick strawberries this summer at Oregon farms (with a few new rules in place).

And now, a ray of hope for those who have seen summer pleasures fall by the wayside, from public pools to outdoor concerts to naked bike rides: In the pandemic summer of 2020, Oregonians will still be able to pick berries (and cherries and peaches and flowers and veggies) from local u-pick farms. 

The Portland metro area is home to dozens and dozens of such farms—everyone has their favorite—and farm owners were anxiously awaiting guidance from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, especially with the first crop of local strawberries making their way to farmers’ markets this week. 

This week, the official go-ahead finally arrived.  

This doesn’t mean that u-pick won’t look different this summer. Per the agriculture department’s guidance, farms will have to ensure that customers have washed their hands with soap and water before entering and exiting the fields, put up Porta Potties if there’s no on-site toilet, and establish staggered “pick zones” to make sure that physical distancing rules are being followed, all rules that could require farmers to hire extra help to enforce. 

The toughest change for many customers, says Cheryl Boden of West Union Gardens in Hillsboro, will be the “no sampling” rules. For years, kids (and, OK, some adults) have returned from the fields with their mouths stained with berries from tasting as they pick, but that’s off the table this year, in order to keep clean hands out of people’s mouths.  

We have always told people, taste just a couple before you start to pick,” says Boden, because her family’s farm grows unusual varietals, including currants, boysenberries, and gooseberries. (Right now, they plan on a mid-June opening for the first crop of Silvan blackberries, followed by tayberries, a raspberry/blackberry mash-up.) More changes: No pets allowed, even in the car, and farmers would appreciate you checking their social media feeds or even calling before heading out, because individual farms may have additional rules in place. 

At smaller farms, customers might need to make appointments for a picking slot, or have to wait to get started until a spot opens up, similar to the line system now in place at many area grocery stores. 

Face masks will be required for employees who handle money or interact closely with customers, and are “recommended” for guests under the ODA guidelines. And, in a nod to the statewide push to better trace those who’ve come in contact with COVID-19 patients, farms could ask customers to use a sign-in sheet so that they can be easily found in case someone visiting the farm on the same date is later diagnosed with the virus. 

Even with all this, Boden says the goal is “to give people an experience that is as fun and close to normal as possible. Most of the changes are good changes. Whether they are permanent or not, they heighten our awareness of safety and protecting other people.” 

First up for the picking in late May are strawberries and (usually) rhubarb, followed in June by boysenberries, raspberries, loganberries, and, toward the end of the month, cherries. 

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