Have you tasted a berry grown from the soils of Oregon? Chances are you have — about 60 percent of blueberries and blackberries (and marionberries if you're lucky!) come from Oregon farms. With our Northwest climate of cloudiness punctuated by bright bursts of heat, conditions are perfect for the ripest and juiciest of berries. Join farmer Phil and I as we tour a few farms and visit with a local cannery, Oregon Fruit. See more photos below:
Oregon Fruit has been a single family-run, small batch fruit cannery since 1935. Their cannery is located in Salem, Oregon (about an hour south of Portland) and the fruit they can comes from local farms, within a 30 mile radius (with the exception of sour cherries, which they import from Michigan). Their cannery is charming, with a few modern fixtures such as a metal detector and temperature-controlled steam bath, but mostly it feels like this business hasn't changed much over the past seventy years. To watch a dark, sweet cherry go from farm to can is a pretty remarkable process, with a twist in each and every step. The sugar steams, the cans go by on conveyor belts, the cherries get shaken out and it's every bit a preservation wonder to behold.
The real beauty of the process however, can be found outdoors, in the acres of berry farms. Farmer Phil led us to the edge of a blackberry and blueberry farm to see the fruits at their peak, just before they were to be harvested. The Duke variety of blueberries were the biggest blueberry specimen I'd ever seen. My fellow tour-takers all let out a collective, "Oh my God, this is awesome!" as we first hopped out of the car and into the narrow pathways between the blueberry bushes. I hesitate to even call them "bushes," these were practically trees as tall as me and just loaded with huge, bursting fruits. The blueberries were more like grapes on a vine than individual, spindly bushes, as I've seen before.
Phil instructed me in "milking" the blueberry bush, which means cupping both hands around a bushel and gingerly scraping the blueberries into a bucket or basket. It was a lovely feeling where I could really celebrate the vibrance of the Oregon soil and perfect weather for berry-growing, not to mention eat my weight in delicious fruit!
Every blueberry acre requires a different amount of water and care each year and season, depending on the weather. All of the plants however, thrive in a slightly acidic soil and sawdust cover, which helps to retain nutrients and acts as a mulch. Throughout the berry farms, I saw sawdust hills large and small, being readied to cover the crops. Never before have I been so appreciative of all the work it takes to harvest berries and eat them fresh or the process of canning them for winter time. I'm grateful for the Salem-area farmers and the bounty they produce for all of us.
Have you visited a berry farm? A fruit cannery? What was it like for you?
• Visit Oregon Fruit: Oregon Fruit
Related: Expert Interview & Tour: Bob's Red Mill
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)