By Jim McConville | Staff Writer
Well, maybe not yet.
with New Jersey's annual summer blueberry harvesting season arriving
mid-June, it may be a good time to stake out your favorite blueberry
pick-your-own farm in the area.
And while the number of state
blueberry farms has dwindled throughout the years, there's still more
than a handful of independent operators in Monmouth and Ocean counties
and further south.
New Jersey, which last year ranked fourth in
the country in blueberry production, harvested 49 million pounds on
7,500 acres with a value of $62.5 million, according to State Department
of Agriculture spokeswoman Lynne Richmond.
But what is it about
the blueberry -- now designated the state's official fruit -- that
brings out amateur pickers in droves each year?
One of the reasons
cited for the berry's popularity is the multitude of health benefits
purportedly generated by these pea-sized orbs.
In 2007, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture determined that blueberries ranked No. 1 as an
antioxidant in comparison with 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called
free radicals, which are associated with cancer and age-related
Recent USDA research also indicates that blueberries may
help fight atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, as well help
control cholesterol and fight colon cancer.
But documented health
benefits notwithstanding, most people who perform this annual summer
rite do it more to savor the taste of fresh blueberries. And those
berries not eaten straight off the bush are saved as the key ingredient
for a cornucopia of blueberry-based goodies. Besides blueberry muffins,
blueberry pancakes and blueberry scones, there's now blueberry salad and
even blueberry-laced pizza.
"There are a million recipes for
blueberries -- cooking, baking, as a topping, whatever," said Roz
Ressner, co-owner along with Michael Diehl of Earth Friendly Organic
Farm in Millstone Township, which produces blueberries and blackberries
in August and raspberries in the fall.
"I like to think that
people come out to the farm for the experience," says John Marchese,
co-owner with his mother, Susan Marchese, of Emery's Organic Blueberry
Farm in Plumsted. "You get to take your children out and let them know
that blueberries are grown on a bush and not in a supermarket."
lot of families that come out here want to be part of the farm, want to
be part of the experience," Marchase added. "They want to pick their
"I have 10 different variety of blueberries," Marchese
said. "The main focus and core element to this farm the past 63 years
has been blueberries."
Veteran blueberry pickers who visit Emery's Farm yearly typically ask to pick a specific variety of blueberry.
could because they either like the size, the texture, the sweetness or
the flavor," Marchese said. "Each variety of blueberry that we grow can
have significant differences."
While the state's official
blueberry-picking season kicks off roughly in mid-June and runs through
early August, Mother Nature sometimes has a say on the exact season
dates. For instance, last year's warm spring produced an early harvest.
has a lot to due with the weather," Diehl said. "It's almost impossible
to say that on June 23, we're going to have lots of blueberries.
Ressner advises potential blueberry pickers to call the farm a day or two prior to making the trip.
I send out 500 emails to customers, I may have a lot of blueberries,"
she says. "But within 10 days, those blueberries could be gone."
Perhaps the most popular form of blueberry consumption is eating them right off the bush.
"We get customers who come back who say, 'before we got home, the kids had already eaten them all,' " Ressner said.
for those blueberry devotees who can't do without a fresh blueberry fix
the rest of the year, farmers recommend that they freeze them.
encourage people to freeze blueberries for the whole winter," Ressner
said. "They freeze beautifully. All you have to do is pick them clean,
put them in a little bag, put them in the freezer and they're fine for
months. Just take them out and use them."
Farmers say there's also
a contingent of diehard pickers akin to rock star fans who cannot get
enough freshly picked blueberries.
"We have a group of 'we'll be backers,' customers who will come several times during the three-month season," Ressner said.
surprisingly, blueberry farmers are biased toward their own crops,
claiming they are heads above what consumers can pick up in their corner
supermarket, mainly because of a question of timing.
"Blueberries (in a grocery store) might be a week or two old; they may not be as firm," Diehl said.
Supermarket blueberry suppliers also may pick berries too soon.
"If you pick one that's maybe a week before it's really ripe, it's not going to be as sweet or as tasty," Diehl said.
62 John White Road
Open May to October Monday-Friday: 3 p.m to 7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun.; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Earth Friendly Organic Farm
17 Olde Noah Road
Open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from late June through early September
Emery's Organic Blueberry Farm
346 Long Swamp Road
Open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting mid June. 609-758-8514
60 Cherry St.
Open Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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