In Alma, Georgia it’s blueberry harvest season and a group of us blueberry lovers, including registered dietitians and food bloggers had the privilege to attend a Blueberry Farm Tour hosted by the US Highbush Blueberry Council.
We left our desks and computers for the day to tag along with local blueberry farmers where we spent the day touring fruit orchards, nurseries, and distribution facilities to learn first-hand how blueberries make it from the field to our table.
The farmers we met have been growing blueberries on their family farms for generations and understand what it takes to harvest the best blueberries from every bush. From bee pollination to soil preparation to the time the berries are inspected and shipped, remarkable care is taken to ensure only the best berries make it into our grocery carts.
I grew up on a small farm, raising fruit, animals, and vegetables, so I love seeing where my food comes from and interacting with farmers but never was I aware of the care and detail that goes into each step of the berry growing process.
From the field, the fresh picked blueberries are loaded into large containers and dropped off at a nearby blueberry packing facility. There each bin is labeled with the grower’s name and location as part of a quality control measure.
After the berries undergo the wash and de-stemming process they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are sorted based on weight, size, softness and color. Any green berries are discarded and the red and soft berries are used to make juice.
As a dietitian, these little blue dynamos have always scored high on my list. However, these days I now pass by those blueberries at the grocery store with a new appreciation. We are all fortunate to enjoy the fruits of these farmers’ skilled and dedicated labor.
While enjoying handfuls of fresh blueberries I learned some interesting facts about them:
- The blueberry is only one of three native fruits to North America.
- The white, dusty like coating found on blueberries is referred to as the ‘bloom’. Not to be confused as a pesticide or spray, the bloom is a natural coating that provides protection to the delicate skin of the blueberry as it matures. The less the berry is handled the more apparent the bloom.
- The average weight of one blueberry is 0.66 grams. This year Georgia will produce over 80 million pounds of blueberries.
- Most all blueberries we find in our grocery stores are produced by the northern high bush blueberry, which grows between 4-6 feet tall.
- Individually Quick Frozen, also referred to as IQF, is a modern freezing process that lowers the temperature of berries to -13 degrees F in a matter of seconds.
- The secret to freezing blueberries at home is to use unwashed and completely dry fruit. The berries will freeze individually and you can remove just the portion you need.
Alison Sacks is a registered dietitian of Capitol Nutrition Group, a Washington, DC private practice committed to helping people live healthy lives on their own terms.