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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 theyll seemingly pay anything for what Mueller and Jasper have to offer.
This year its $16 for a 12-pint flat of luscious plump strawberries straight from Bells 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 Wendys.
Wearing a broad straw hat, Dorothy hoists the Bells 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 Bells, has been selling Bells 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 shes seen for years, either at the pickup or at the farm a few miles away.
Theyre always the best, said Oak Harbor resident Jan Racicky as she lugged a full flat of berries back to her car Wednesday morning. Ive been doing this for 30 years. I can always count on Bells Farm to give me the best berries.
Mrs. Frances Kringel has only lived in Oak Harbor for a year or so, but shes already a confirmed believer in Bells Farm berries. Theyre soooo gooood!, she enthused as she tried to decide which flat to purchase.
Dorothys stockpile of berries was a bit low early in the week because the kids who do most of the picking at Bells Farm werent out of school yet. Some were picking after school, but not enough to keep up with Oak Harbors pent-up demand for strawberries.
Bells 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 youre a kid or an adult, enjoy the U-pick opportunity at the farm or purchase berries already picked at the farm, at Dorothys pickup most mornings, or at the Coupeville Farmers Market on Saturday.
One way or another, get your berries soon. Because itll be a long, restless 49 weeks before Bells Farm berries will be available again.