Pick Your Own Fruit at Julie’s U-Pick in PortervilleMar 30, 2019 11:00AM ● By Kayla Anderson
Story by Kayla Anderson
Photos courtesy of Julie's U-Pick
SINCE THE NUMBER of blueberries is probably equal to the population of Porterville in any given year, Julie’s U-Pick farm is encouraging people to come and pick their own fresh organic fruit.
This small and humble Porterville operation is owned and managed by Young Kwun, who originally came out to the West Coast to study medicine but upon graduating eventually took a turn that landed him in the blueberry business. With a degree in biochemistry from Loma Linda University, Kwun shifted his focus toward growing and selling the antioxidant-rich fruit.
“My parents wanted me to be a doctor, but I really didn’t like blood and medicine. My sisters are both physicians, though,” Young says with a laugh as he recalls the decision to become a blueberry farmer.
“I always liked the idea of growing things and I’ve always liked blueberries – they’re sweet and healthy and one of the things you can eat a lot of and not get fat,” Kwun says. He didn’t eat many blueberries growing up because they weren’t around in his Maryland hometown, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a huge fan of the juicy fruit.
About 11 years ago, Kwun bought the 40 acres formerly called the Tabitha Max Blueberry Farm. He later sold that portion of the land and opened a new version of the blueberry farm close to it, renaming it Julie’s U-Pick after his mother Julie.
“My mother has always loved fresh fruit and vegetables, so she came out here to help me run the farm,” Young says. Julie worked as a registered nurse for more than 40 years and upon retirement, moved out to California to spend time with her son. At 80 years young, Julie invited her friends and neighbors out to the farm to pick their own fruit. Now she’s in charge of the fruit stand, and she helps with weeding, pruning and managing the u-pick program. “She loves it. She’s really into fresh good-quality fruits,” Young says.
Julie’s blueberry farm is also a small commercial operation. However, managing a 40-acre organic blueberry farm does come with certain challenges. Not being a farmer by trade, Young says he’s made a lot of mistakes along the way learning the business.
“The business climate – and farming climate – is getting really difficult. Some of the main challenges are Mother Nature, labor costs, changing regulations – and being a smaller farm, we’re not able to compete with some of the larger companies,” Young says. “Farming is not easy, it’s very detailed. Blueberries require certain acidic soils, pollination, fertilization and pruning. It’s not as hard as cherries but it is harder than growing oranges or almonds.”
Weather, climate, soil, water and competitive industry all play a part in a successful blueberry business. A handful of workers maintain the commercial operation, managing and harvesting a larger production of the fresh fruit that are then sold in major grocery stores.
“Farming is very meaningful, but it’s not easy,” Young says. He keeps to his main mission of using his blueberry farm to facilitate healthy living and promote sustainable farming practices. One way he does that is by reducing his use of pesticides and using natural, organic fertilizers. Signs around the farm drive home this point by warning of owls nesting above, and one pockmarked wooden board has a picture of a smiling bumblebee on it that states, “Caution: bumblebee board,” marking the pollinators’ activity in the area.
“Part of being organic is that you want good natural pollinators that are native to the area. Bumblebees are very beneficial pollinators. In pest management, owls kill a lot of rodents and bats eat some forms of insects. We use as many natural means as possible to produce organic, healthy fruit,” Young says. The farm also plants some lavender and mint to steer insects toward those crops and give them their own food source, as well.
Many customers come back every year for more.
“People like walking through the fields and picking their own fruit. We have many regulars – a lot of people are very particular about the quality of fruit they consume to the point where price is not an issue. They just want really good, healthy fruit,” says Young.
The farm and fruit stand are open to the public early May through mid-June (the harvesting window for Central California). Children must be supervised and blueberry pickers should bring their own hats, sunscreen, picking buckets, close-toed shoes and water. It costs $4 a pound to pick your own blueberries or $5 for a pound of pre-picked blueberries to buy at the fruit stand, open 7 am to 6 pm every day but Saturday. •
Julie’s U-Pick • 14565 Road 208, Porterville
www.juliesupick.com • (559) 791-8852