In the age-old tale of man versus nature, Rick and Jessie Shepherd are trying to come out on top against a local herd of elk that annually invade Blueberry Hill Farms.
“We had a good crop,” said Rick Shepherd. “The saying here is get ‘em while you can before the elk do. We’ve been open for a couple weeks now and sales have been good. I don’t see a tremendous amount of damage yet.”
Last year, the herd devastated his crops, taking between 30-40% of the blueberries. And they’ve returned to the scene of crime last week.
The blueberry bushes on the Shepherd's 5-acre farm usually bloom in the spring and ripen beginning in July. The harvest once continued through September. However, in the last couple of years, the Shepherds have been lucky to get through August thanks to that local herd of elk.
The Shepherds have coexisted with the elk in their 28 years of operating Blueberry Hill Farms, being OK with the amount of fruit the elk have taken. But in recent years, the herd’s numbers have grown so large that Rick is trying to do what he can to keep them at bay.
“I had built up a fence (pointing at the north end) and we’ve been playing some radios out there to try and distract them,” he said. “We thought it was working. But here in the last four days there’s been some more in. I’ve seen evidence they’ve broke my fence down.”
As of July 28, Blueberry Hill had sold nearly half of this year's crop.
“We’re kind of peaking right now. So we should have plenty of berries through next week. Then we’ll start tapering down,” Shepherd said.
He explained the berries are not U-pick. He has pickers who do the work, leaving customers to just pick up their orders. And he’s not limiting the amount of purchase.
“We just had a 175-pound order. As long as we can supply them, we’re not going to limit them,” Shepherd said.
Elk are not the only challenge the blueberry farmer faces. Fog or drizzling rain can sometimes delay ripening, forcing the farm to shut down for a day or two.
At this rate, the Shepherds hope to stay open to around Aug. 15 or 20.
More info: Blueberry Hill Farms, 3290 Kings Valley Rd., Crescent City; open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 707-464-4344, berries are $5 a pound.