It’s not just freshness and flavor that people pay for with Picha Farm berries, it’s also tradition.
The 60-acre farm in the Puyallup Valley is a family-operated venture dating back to 1904. It’s now run by brothers Russ and Dan Picha, who took over from their father years ago. Their children help out, making it four generations tending the same land, plowing the rich soil year-round and delivering half flats of strawberries straight from the fields.
There’s even a bronze statue of father Ted Picha carrying a flat of strawberries in Puyallup’s Pioneer Park.
But the tradition extends beyond the Picha family to their customers, many of whom are second-generation regulars. Some still pay with checks.
They patiently wait at the Pichas’ two stands in Puyallup and Tacoma for the first pick of the day, or in the afternoons when the first batch of berries has sold out and more are being trucked in.
“It’s been nearly 60 years we’ve been coming here,” said Judy Deyoe, who visited the Tacoma stand twice on a recent afternoon. “Mom came here. I like this place. They’re always good.”
Now that strawberry season is in full swing, the demand at Picha and other local farms has skyrocketed. Pickers fill an average of 400 half flats to be sold each day, though that number increases significantly on the weekends.
This weekend is the first u-pick for strawberries at Picha Farm. Raspberries and blackberries won’t ripen until July.
It’s the busiest time of year for anyone with berry crops, and Russ and Dan Picha are no exception. The brothers are both teachers with the Puyallup School District and run the farm on the side.
“It’s not uncommon for us to teach and a half-hour later be on a tractor until 9 p.m.,” Russ Picha said.
They’ve deliberately kept their operation small enough so that they can manage it on their own. They dedicate 15 acres to strawberries, 15 acres to raspberries and 25 or so to their growing pumpkin patch and corn maze. The last few acres are used for operations.
About 30 pickers are hired each year to start plucking berries from the vine around 5:30 a.m. and fill small green baskets, which are loaded into cardboard boxes on the back of a flatbed truck. The berries are sent to the farm’s two stands, a wholesaler and several Anthony’s restaurants.
Grant Broeker, 16, has been picking berries for the Pichas the last four summers, following in the footsteps of his older siblings. He said he enjoys the work and can’t think of a better way to earn a little money.
“I like to be outside moving,” he explained. “Also, the berries are really good, too.”
The Picha brothers said they’re honored to bring the same pickers back year after year, further adding to the tradition and dependableness of their operation.
Another long-term part of the Pichas’ operation are Carole and Bill Nuss, who have been selling the farm’s berries at their Tacoma stand at South 74th and Tyler streets for 33 years.
Strangers approach Carole Nuss on the street, even on out-of-state vacations, and recognize her as the “berry lady.” It always makes her chuckle.
At the stand, regulars ask after her family or bring her fish caught on recent trips. It’s all friendly banter and cheery berry treats. On weekends, when a long line wraps around the covered stand, Nuss hands out numbers to keep customers from cutting in line.
She said it’s the top quality and ultimate freshness that keep people coming back.
“We even have a lot of wives who send their husbands because they don’t have to be here to pick them themselves,” Nuss said with a laugh.
Most days, the stands sell out by mid-afternoon. Russ Picha said their goal is to pick enough berries to keep the stands open until 4 p.m. On the rare occasion when there are berries left over, they sell them marked down as day-old berries.
A flat is $21, a half flat is $12 and baskets are $2.50.
Dan Picha said the family has grown lots of crops since their grandparents settled in the Puyallup Valley more than a century ago, including cucumbers, potatoes and beans, but berries are the best sellers.
“It’s tradition. We’ve always been here. People know,” he said. “It’s in our blood.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653