by Emily Scholle
When I signed on to work at an organic blueberry farm over the summer, I (and everyone else I knew) had idyllic images in mind of what that would look like: pleasant days in the sun harvesting/eating blueberries, my fingertips stained a pretty shade of purple-blue, befriending all the woodland creatures…
While this may be more along the lines of what I’ll be doing in a few weeks when the berries collectively ripen, I had no idea how much sweat and hard work actually goes into organic farming practices. Now that my body has started to acclimate to the process, it seems fitting to revisit the notion of why we are doing what we do at Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm. (The academic paper-writing grad student in me is going to get fact-y here for a second, so bear with me).
There has long been a debate over whether organic (grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals) is really better for you than conventional (using synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides) when it comes to buying your produce. As a broke college student, I was especially skeptical for years: “You want me to pay more money for less food? Madness! Ain’t nobody got time for that!” What I have found in my own experience is that organic produce tastes better than its conventional equivalents, and research actually shows that it’s better for you.
I’ll try to spare y’all the boring details since, as Leslie Knope says, “All I have on my side is facts and science, and people hate facts and science.” But check this out: the USDA did a study a few years back on whether there was any difference between conventional and organic blueberries, and here is what they found:
Organic blueberries contain more fructose and glucose than conventionally grown berries, which makes them sweeter. They also have about 50% more antioxidant capability, which means that they better protect the cells in your body from being damaged.
There’s that buzzword again, “antioxidants.” Who cares? Well, I do. Especially as I get older. And here’s why:
The body is full of free radicals (an atom that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA by altering their chemical structure) and antioxidants (a substance that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides, or free radicals) already, living in a symbiotic balance of good and evil. The free radicals are Lex Luthor, the antioxidants of course being Superman (or Clark Kent if you prefer a man in glasses, which I do). The two fight each other, with antioxidants generally winning out and keeping things in harmony. Free radicals outside the body, however, are kryptonite.
When we get exposed to external free radicals like toxins, pollutants, and pretty much anything we encounter living in a civilization, they get the upper hand and that’s when bad things start to happen: we get sick easier. Our skin ages faster. Our eye health can deteriorate quicker, memory isn’t as fast. This is where we need to supplement our diets with antioxidants, like the Justice League coming to help Superman in his times of weakness.
Blueberries especially have a high level of antioxidants in them, and as you can see from the USDA study, the organic ones have an even higher level. So exactly how different is the process of growing something conventionally versus organic? Ends up, it’s a lot of hard work to ensure that your berries are the best they can be.
At Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm, each blueberry bush goes through a rigorous process to make it ready for you, the U-pickers! Kether, Lyndon, John Paul, Trey, Rachel, Jake, and myself are working hard every day to keep this process in motion, an arduous marathon of manual labor since we are growing the berries free of any chemical helpers. So what exactly does this process entail?
Were we growing the berries conventionally, we would rely on pesticides/insecticides, weed killers, and other harmful chemicals to do the job for us. Since we are committed to organic practices, however, our process goes a little something like this:
1. Each blueberry bush is pruned up top to allow for nice open rows for y’all to walk down and collect your berries.
2. We define the base of each blueberry bush, which means cutting down other plants (Virginia creeper, wily maple trees, honeysuckle) that want to join the party and soak up all that sun!
3. All the felled branches and cuttings are hauled away to keep those rows clear.
4. Weeds are gotten rid of either through pulling them out by hand or chopping them down with our designated bush hog.
5. Mulch is transported in smaller loads from the mountain out front to the bushes, tucked around each plant to create a nice path and keep those tricky weeds and plants from coming back!
6. Our progress is documented continuously to keep you, our wonderful audience, updated.
As the temperatures climb higher and the days grow longer, it is even more imperative to remind ourselves and others why we do what we do. When we are knee-deep in cut branches, chopping through impassable walls of briars and thorns, moving huge mounds of mulch, it is worth it to see how the bushes breathe easier when the vines are cut out, how every morning there are more ripe berries than when we left the day before. We work hard so that you can spend the day picking blueberries here with your families, and creating the kind of memories with your loved ones that owners Lyndon and Kether have of picking blueberries as children with their grandparents.
Photo Credits: John Paul Henry
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