One Easy Sell

Dorothy Mueller and her dog Jasper have the easiest sales job in Oak Harbor.

No high pressure salesmanship needed. Customers arrive clutching a handful of bills or checkbook and simply ask, “How much?” No dickering — they’ll seemingly pay anything for what Mueller and Jasper have to offer.

This year it’s $16 for a 12-pint flat of luscious plump strawberries straight from Bell’s Farm on West Beach Road. Most mornings during berry season Dorothy loads up her pickup truck with a couple of dozen flats of berries and sets up shop in the empty field next to 7-11, right across Highway 20 from Wendy’s.

Wearing a broad straw hat, Dorothy hoists the Bell’s Farm banner while Jasper paces around the pickup, waiting to greet customers. In seconds they arrive and in a flash -- usually less than an hour - the berries are gone, purchased by the flat, half-flat or pint.

Dorothy, a niece of Jerry Bell’s, has been selling Bell’s Farm berries from her pickup since Jasper, a brown and white spaniel, was a pup about 14 years ago. Many of her customers are friendly faces she’s seen for years, either at the pickup or at the farm a few miles away.

“They’re always the best,” said Oak Harbor resident Jan Racicky as she lugged a full flat of berries back to her car Wednesday morning. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I can always count on Bell’s Farm to give me the best berries.”

Mrs. Frances Kringel has only lived in Oak Harbor for a year or so, but she’s already a confirmed believer in Bell’s Farm berries. “They’re soooo gooood!,” she enthused as she tried to decide which flat to purchase.

Dorothy’s stockpile of berries was a bit low early in the week because the kids who do most of the picking at Bell’s Farm weren’t out of school yet. Some were picking after school, but not enough to keep up with Oak Harbor’s pent-up demand for strawberries.

Bell’s Farm awaited the last day of school Friday with at least as much anticipation as the kids. By Monday morning, if enough show interest, the berry fields will be crawling with youngsters picking strawberries for some spending money.

A good picker can make minimum wage or better, Dorothy said. “In my prime I could pick a flat in 10 minutes,” she said.

An oldtimer waiting to buy berries marveled at that comment. “One summer I picked berries and made about 85 cents,” said Bud Zylstra, a World War II veteran who likely picked in the Depression era. He remembered a particularly bad year when the strawberries were tiny and never ripened.

Dorothy suggests that working in the fields is good for kids. “It sure teaches them the value of a buck,” she said.

This berry season started early due to warm spring weather and the scorching 90 degree day that hit the island a couple of weeks ago. The first berries were picked June 3, about two weeks earlier than normal. But then the weather cooled, allowing the major harvest to await the end of school.

Dorothy estimates the strawberry season will last about three more weeks. Work in the fields for pay if you’re a kid or an adult, enjoy the U-pick opportunity at the farm or purchase berries already picked at the farm, at Dorothy’s pickup most mornings, or at the Coupeville Farmers Market on Saturday.

One way or another, get your berries soon. Because it’ll be a long, restless 49 weeks before Bell’s Farm berries will be available again.

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