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Farming Bears Fruit

Early farming efforts bore fruit – quite literally.  On Bainbridge Island, Japanese-American families who came to work in Port Blakely, shifted to farming after the mill closed in 1923 and became known especially for growing strawberries.   In particular, the Marshall variety was known for its juiciness and large size.  Former farmer Art Koura said “Marshalls had a very meaty heart, and tender skin.”  Today’s strawberries are “so hard you could play marbles with them.”  In 1930 to facilitate processing the large berry crops, the Winslow Berry Growers’ Association, a local farmer’s cooperative, helped build a cannery on Eagle Harbor at the south end of Weaver Road. During its production peak early in the Depression they shipped 500 – 55 gallon barrels a day of select Marshall strawberries.  Vessels barged the barrels of sugared berries to Seattle, where they were shipped world wide.   In May 1939, 800 cases of Marshall Berries were even shipped to British Columbia for the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England.  That year’s six-week cannery season packed 1.45 million pounds of berries.  A year later, almost 2 million pounds of berries were processed.   In 1971 Kitsap still had a berry processor, 170 acres of berries and harvested 1.1 million pounds of strawberries.

Bainbridge wasn’t the only place known for its berries, Olalla means “berries”.  When the first settlers arrived they were approached by Native American’s asking, “Mamook olallie?” meaning “Have you picked berries?”  Larson assumed, erroneously, that he was being told the name of the area, hence the name! After some early struggles with marketing, farmers successfully grew strawberries in Ollala, shipping them to Seattle, Vancouver and points east.  By 1910 farmers had organized as the Ollala Growers Association, built their own dock and were cooperatively marketing berries to commission merchants in the region.  By 1956 Kitsap was the number 33 nationally among America’s 100 leading strawberry producing counties.  In addition to strawberries, blueberries and raspberries were also farmed commercially in Kitsap with about 20 percent of the crop being sold fresh to local residents.

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