Photo by Melody

Jersey Blues

By Diana Wind (windJune 29, 2012
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Back in the days of commuting to and from culinary school in South Jersey, I would drive past the world's largest blueberry farm --Atlantic Blueberry Company. My eyes would scan across hundreds of acres to catch a glimpse of the beautiful landscape. I recently revisited the fields, renewing my culinary excitement for eating and cooking with Jersey Blues.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on July 25, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously publishd articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Blueberry plants are in the genus Vaccinium and members of the Ericaceae family. Their berries are one of the few fruits that are native to North America. You'll find many varieties of blueberries, most within three main species: Northern highbush (V. corymbosum), Southern rabbiteye (V. ashei) and wild blueberries that are a lowbush type (V.angustifolium). 

About Cultivated Blueberries

We have Elizabeth White of Whitesbog, New Jersey to thank for the cultivated blueberries we have today. She formed an alliance with Dr. Frederick Coville in the early 1900s; together, using specimens from the New Jersey pines, their efforts Blueberry picking equipmentresulted in a breeding success story. Whitesbog was first to produce a commercial crop of blueberries. Is it any wonder New Jersey's state fruit is the blueberry?

Increased Demand

Although commercial growers feel the pinch of the recent tightened economy, they are still picking, packing and shipping millions of pounds of antioxidant-rich, nutritious blueberries. Last year the NJ Department of Agriculture reported that New Jersey's blueberry crop reached an all-time high for 2007 production and value of production. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the United States Department of Agriculture, the 2007 New Jersey blueberry production figures showed 54 million pounds of blueberries were produced at a value of $90.2 million (just shy of the record in Michigan of 93 million pounds) but still an increase from the $83 million previous record in 2006.[1] Atlantic Blueberry Co., Hammonton, NJ

The past trend of increased blueberry production has been after warm and dry spring weather conditions, just the opposite of the wet and cool spring we've had this season. Time will tell how the nations current production will rank in comparison to the increased production trends of the past.

Atlantic Blueberry Company

Atlantic Blueberry Company began after the Great Depression in 1935. Their original 5-acre farm -- located in Hammonton, New Jersey in an area known as the Pinelands -- has grown to over 1,300 acres today and is among the largest high bush blueberry farming operations in the world. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Galletta, son of one of the 5 Galletta brothers (sons of Italian immigrants) about his family's blueberry company. I visited in early May, 30 or 40 days before their harvest and during pollination, when the fields were buzzing with over 2,100 colonies of bees, each colony having 50,000 to 100,000 bees. Galetta told me back then, "The high nutrition in blueberries has really increased the demand."

On my return visit this July Galetta acknowledged that, although things have slowed down a bit due to today's economy, he was pleased with his company's production and its plans for increasing certified organic acreage to 30 acres next year and 60 acres in 2011. His concerns were more about the crazy weather we had this spring. Although highbush blueberry shrubs Blueberry Picking at Atlantic Blueberry Co.like moist soil, Galetta informed me, "You can't pick wet." (The berries will get moldy in the containers.) "June was the third wettest in NJ history, and April and May were either rainy or cloudy." Since the rainy weather occurred during pollination time, bee activities were hindered.

Today, Galetta is all smiles, and the mood is up at Atlantic Blueberry Co. The sun is shining, and the picking teams are busy. Teams range from 40-400 people working out in the hot sun, as they hand pick blueberries. Although they have plenty of automated equipment, Galetta prefers to have the blueberries hand picked to ensure the finest quality. Without much delay, the berries are sorted, packed, forced-air cooled and shipped from their distribution center to local "Mom-n-Pop" stores and nationwide food chains around the country and even Canada.

Growers celebrate with sunny weather, not just for the best picking, but for optimal growing conditions. Blueberries prefer full sun and very acidic soil having a pH between 4.0 and 5.0. South Jersey soil is perfect for growing 'Jersey Blues'. According to Galletta, "The 3 most popular, successful cultivars of NJ are (Vaccinium corymbosum) highbush blueberry 'Duke'(early), 'Blue Crop' (mid) and 'Elliot' (late)." In the U.S. blueberry harvest runs April through October.

Blueberry Nutrition Jersey Blues

Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants and score the highest of tested berries in antioxidant analysis studies conducted by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.[2] One cup of blueberries has 3,200 ORAC units.[3] ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. A food scoring high may slow aging by protecting cells from oxidative damage in the body and the brain. A more familiar term may be anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that make blueberries blue and are thought to be the major contributor to high antioxidant levels.

A study done in Italy, comparing cultivated blueberries to wild Italian blueberries, found anthocyanin concentrations to be two and three times higher in the wild berries vs. the cultivated blueberries.[4] In addition to antioxidants all blueberries, cultivated or wild (based on a 1 cup serving), are an excellent source of Manganese, vitamin C and vitamin K and a good source of dietary fiber.

***

Nutrition Analysis based on USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference:

1 cup raw blueberries: Total Fat: 0.49g (0.7%DV), Sodium 1mg (0%DV), total dietary Fiber: 4g (14%DV), total Sugars 15g, Vitamin C: 14mg (24%DV), Vitamin K: 29mcg (36%DV), Manganese 0.50mg (25%DV) 

Percent Daily Value (%DV) is based on a 2000 calorie diet 


All photographs Copyright ©2009 Wind. All rights reserved.

Footnotes:

[1] Richmond L,  State of NJ Department of Agriculture, Another Record Year for NJ Blueberry Farmers, Press Release Jan 25, 2008

[2] McBride J., USDA Agrucultural Research Service, Feb.1999, High ORAC Foods may slow Aging. Accessed July 12, 2009.

[3] USDA Agricultural Research Service, Can Foods Forestall Aging? Accessed July 12, 2009.

[4] Comparison of polyphenolic composition and antioxidant activity of wild Italian blueberries and some cultivated varieties
Food Chemistry Volume 112, Issue 4, 15 February 2009, Pages 903-908

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  About Diana Wind  
Diana WindDiana is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a passion for gardening and sustainable foods. She is a graduate of the Academy of Culinary Arts and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food from the garden fuels her enthusiasm for eating right and nutritional science. She especially loves gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening engages us with nature, gives us health benefits from exercise, and rewards us with fresh, nutritious foods. To assess your food and garden activity level, visit choosemyplate.gov or her blog. You can also follow Diana on Google.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Nothing like them!!! nodeerforme 1 9 Jul 2, 2012 11:47 AM
Very nice article! pelletory 6 36 Jul 21, 2010 4:47 AM
picking wet critterologist 1 19 Jul 19, 2010 8:02 PM
Great read, Wind Petalpants 1 12 Aug 2, 2009 9:25 PM
thanks!! onewish1 2 15 Jul 26, 2009 2:20 AM
Well Done! darius 2 21 Jul 25, 2009 4:46 PM
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