Making Pies in the Berry Field…

Pie kitchen at Willamette Valley Fruit Company store.

SALEM, Ore. – Berry pie lovers who are looking for fresh, should grab a slice from Willamette Valley Fruit Company. Grown by local farmers within an eight mile radius of the processing plant and harvested at night by local farmers, the fruit is on its way to the freezer by morning.

Marlene Gunderson-Teuscher manages the pie operation at Willamette Valley Fruit Company in Salem.

Marlene Gunderson-Teuscher, manages the pie operation for Willamette Valley Fruit Company; photo by Jan Jackson.

Willamette Valley Fruit Company, was started in 1999 by two area farmers bent on being able to control the quality of their own product. Operations began in a shed in the back of one of their homes. Today, the company is a year-round operation that ships fresh frozen cane berries to wholesalers, small food distributors and retail stores all over the world. WVFC also has an onsite state-of-the-art kitchen where pies (among other sweet things) are made.

Pie manager comes up through the ranks

Marlene Gunderson-Teuscher, who manages the company’s pie operation, has been with the company since shortly after it started. A native Oregonian whose mother taught her how to bake, cook, stock the salad bar and wash dishes at an early age, found her food industry background a perfect fit for working at Willamette Valley Fruit Company.

“I was looking for part-time work 11-years ago and fell into this job,” Marlene said. “When I started, we were working in a house. I was boxing 60 pies a day two days a week. Today, I oversee crews of 20, on one to three shifts who make as many as 1500 to 1600 pies a shift.”

Willamette Valley Fruit Company Store and pie kitchen

Willamette Valley Fruit company, located in farmland between Salem and Silverton Oregon; photo courtesy Willamette Valley Fruit Company.

Upon entering the company store, the first thing a visitor sees is the viewing window that looks into the pie-baking kitchen. A crew of cross-trained workers, many of whom have been with the company 10 years, are busy doing what they do best – assembling pies. Each person in the assembly line, completes a single task starting with making the pie dough to the final hand-fluted edges that signals the pie is ready for the freezer/oven.

“We don’t stockpile, so customers get fresh product,” Marlene said. “We are right across the driveway from our own berry source and we do our own local deliveries so we are able to keep an eye on the freezer and only replace what is going out. Large distributor quantities are made to order.”

The plant, which operates 24-7 June through September and as needed the rest of the year, is not open to the public. However, by making advanced reservations, groups can tour the pie kitchen.

Lunches and tours

“We host one or two tours a week,” said Deborah Moen, a longtime manager. “We host a variety of groups from retirement homes and groups like the Red Hat Society to school field trips. And, with our kid-friendly viewing window and outdoor playground equipment, a lot of mothers find it a great place to shop.

“We’ve grown slowly and even though we have our own u-pick fields about a block away, we are still looking forward to adding u-pick fields across the street and  perhaps a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program.”

Summer events include live entertainment,  barbecues, sprinkler days and outdoor movie nights. The annual Harvest Festival takes center stage in fall and is packed with activities from our corn maze to our pumpkin patch.

“This time of year, it’s simply a great place to shop, have lunch and a big piece of Marionberry pie,” Deborah said.

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-Jan Jackson ©2011 – See Jan Jackson’s Bio

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