Cultivating the Blues - Organically (certified organic blues)

By Samaya Ryane

British Columbia is number three in the world (we are now number two since this article came out) for producing them, next to New Jersey and Michigan. Native Indians call them the star from the heaven because of their crowns and also because, without them, they couldn't have survived the famines.

Organic Blueberries are the symbol of the long, lazy days of summer when many British Columbians enjoy picking their own round, juicy, sweet fruit. In season from late June to September, organic blueberries are the number one antioxidant (kale is number two), according to researchers at the US Department of Agriculture. Organic blues are an acid fruit high in Vitamins A and C, phosphorous, iron, and potassium. It is good for your pancreas and liver, and is low in calories.

If Blueberries are wonderful, organic blueberries (organic blues) are stupendous.

Not only do they taste better, but they must be happier-growing up in a natural environment, and not having to wince and contract in their budding moments because of chemicals sprayed on them.

In the Lower Mainland there are a number of organic farms that grow and sell organic blues. One in particular, comes to mind, because I've enjoyed 80lbs of their frozen organic blueberries all winter and Spring-Matsqui Blue Farms, the first certified organic blueberry farm in BC.

It's a beautiful drive to this 16-acre farm. Take the Mission exit off the freeway and enjoy lush, green meadows and cows lazing in the sun. Matsqui Blue Farms was bought in March 1948 by the Polish and Russion parents of current owner, Jennifer. One month later, the Fraser River flooded the farm in 11ft of water. Six months after that, the farm was habitable again and the flood had left 6ft of silt-excellent for growing blueberries! Now, 50 years later, there are over 7 acres of 19 different varieties of blueberries (150 varieties exist), and they are at their peak. In 1985, after the death of her father, Jennifer took over the farm with her partner Chris, formerly a road manager for rock stars including Jimi Hendricks, as well as the creator of Frank Zappa's light shows in New York.

An organic blueberry farm is run completely different from a non-organic farm. At organic blues, they work with nature, instead of against it. Weeds are controlled by first hand weeding, then cutting with a scythe and also allowing chickens to peck and scratch at the base of the bushes.

To keep the 8,000 bushes healthy and to minimize disease, they are pruned yearly. After each season, the hand-pruned clippings are ground up, mixed with chicken manure, cooked under a tarp for a year, and then distributed to each bush to feed the roots. In the Spring, when the leaves come out, they are given a foliage spray of liquid seaweed and fish liver emulsion* that has no added stabilizer. They are sprayed twice more-once before harvest and once afterwards to prepare them for the winter.

This also aids in minimizing harmful insects and disease. The mummy berry infection is controlled by chickens feeding on them and putting the above-mentioned natural mulch around the base of each bush. The organic blues are hand-harvested by about 100 pickers, and people can also pick their own. Starlings love organic blues. Blueberry farmers do not love starlings. In the early spring, starlings nest in a robin's nest. First they eat the robin's eggs and then lay their own, leaving the robin to raise the starlings.

Starlings reproduce three times in a season, at a rate of five-to-six eggs per nesting. Other blueberry farms in the area use propane-fired guns to scare the birds away while others cover their acres with netting. (However, some birds get caught in the netting and suffer a slow death, before rotting in the sun.) At organic blues, starlings face a useful end-for other people. The starlings follow grain down a craftily placed slot into one of three cages on the property. If a hawk doesn't come around and help himself, Chris goes into the cage, stuffs the live birds into onion sacks and sells them to various ethnic groups for 75 cents each. (they taste like pheasant and their bones are like those of canned salmon.) Some days, a total of 300 starlings end up on local dinner tables.

Some of the Matsqui Blue Farms organic blues might be landing on your dinner table (in British Columbia, Alberta, Washington State, Oregon and California all the organic blueberry products at Starbucks come from Matsqui Blue).

Matsqui Blue Farms,
organic blues
*Some organic blue bushes are sprayed with only seaweed for vegetarians.

Article Provided by Shared Vision, Issue 119 July 1998