July is National Blueberry Month – Buy Local and Organic

Cluster of Blueberries on Blueberry BushIn my view, National Blueberry Month is a blueberry industry marketing ploy to get people to buy more blueberries. But in the case of blueberries, I don’t care. Blueberries are tasty, good for you, and can be gentle on the environment.

So let’s celebrate National Blueberry Month by purchasing locally or regionally grown blueberries. If July is not a prime month for blueberries where you live, move your celebration to a month that is.

Blueberries are grown in 38 states in the U.S. from March through October. Enjoy the season in your region and skip buying out of season blueberries flown in from Chile or another South American country. The carbon footprint just isn’t worth it.

Contribute to your own health and the planet’s by purchasing blueberries grown organically or at least without pesticides. This eliminates toxic residue runoff that pollutes rivers, lakes, and oceans.

July is the season for fresh blueberries grown on the central California coast. Seeing local blueberries at the farmer’s market inspired me to find out more about blueberries and share what I learned.

How Did National Blueberry Month Get Started?

The highbush blueberry industry likely initiated the idea of a National Blueberry Month and probably had a hand in Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman issuing a proclamation in 1999 designating July as National Blueberry Month “to promote the greater appreciation and use of highbush blueberries”.

Lowbush vs. Highbush Blueberries

Commercial blueberries are mainly divided into two categories, lowbush and highbush. Each has their own fans.

Lowbush blueberries are native to North America. They are grown wild and commercially harvested mostly in Maine and Eastern Canada.

In 1916, after 5 years of collaboration, Elizabeth Coleman White, daughter of a cranberry farmer, and Dr. Frederick Vernon Coville, Chief USDA Botanist, successfully developed a cultivated blueberry. Thus the highbush blueberry was born and is now grown commercially in North and South America.

2012 Blueberry Market Statistics

Flat of Blueberries from Dragon Spring FarmThe U.S. was the world’s largest producer of blueberries in 2012, harvesting 564.4 million pounds with a market value of $850.9 million. Highbush blueberries accounted for 84% of the U.S. blueberry harvest of which 90% were grown in 6 states: Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia, and Washington.

In 2012, the U.S. exported fresh blueberries valued at $145.7 million. Canada was the biggest importer of U.S. grown blueberries, followed by Japan. Interestingly, the U.S. imported more fresh blueberries than it exported. Imports were valued at $419.8 million of which 50% were from Chile and 25% from Canada.

Blueberry Facts

  • Blueberries are one of three fruits native to North America, cranberries, and Concord grapes are the other two.
  • Botanists estimate blueberries have been around for more than 13,000 years.
  • Anthocyanin gives blueberries their blue color.
  • Blueberries are botanical berries meaning they are a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary, like grapes.
  • A single blueberry bush can produce up to 6,000 blueberries a year.
  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of blueberries help prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Blueberry Selection, Storage, and Preparation

Blueberries do not ripen after picking, so select blueberries that are blue, firm, and without white spots which an indicator of mold. Do not wash blueberries until you are ready to eat them as water promotes mold. Blueberries may last a week or even two in the refrigerator, but they taste best when eaten within a few days of picking.

My favorite way to eat blueberries is to rinse a handful and toss them in a bowl of cereal, in a salad, or just eat them as is.

Partially Eaten Blueberry Pie Made by Author's SpouseI do enjoy the occasional blueberry pie like the one in the photo my spouse baked (it was half eaten before I was able to get a picture). In my view, blueberry pie requires vanilla ice cream which ups the deliciousness factor and the calories.

This year I decided to buy a few flats of blueberries from Dragon Spring farm, a local grower who sells at our farmer’s market, while they are in season and freeze them myself. I picked out the stems, laid them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Once they were frozen hard, like small marbles, I placed the blueberries in freezer bags and put them in the freezer. Since they are individually frozen, we will be able to defrost a few or a lot at a time.

If all goes well, I’ll be enjoying local blueberries from my freezer on my cereal in December.


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