“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.” -Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
It is summer in Georgia. This means it is the perfect time for blueberry picking in Georgia.
It’s hard to imagine a foodscape without blueberries. As as one of my favorite fruits, I don’t want to think about life without them. As a family, we grow, pick, eat, and freeze them. Throughout winter, we regularly eat them in smoothies, pancakes, and other baked goods. The fruits freeze well and keep for months in our freezer.
There is a natural attraction between children and the earth, whether it’s making mud or discovering a ripe blueberry for the first time. Spending time with children, opens new windows of thought and communication in a world dominated by iPhones and technology.
Prior to the early 20th century, blueberries were not the staple fruit we think of today, as they have only been in cultivation for about the last 100 years. Although they appeared in US markets and harvested from the wild, their widespread distribution was limited. Blueberries are native to North America and were an important source of food for Native Americans for thousands of years.
Blueberries keep longer in storage than many other similar berries, making them an important forage crop that Native Americans dried and stored for winter. They were eaten fresh when in season and incorporated into a variety of basic stews and other food combinations. In addition, Native American use of blueberries for medical purposes was widespread, including the use of roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits in various preparations.
Blueberries are members of the genus Vaccinium, which hosts more than 35 species native to North America. Worldwide the Vaccinium genome is diverse, with species adapted to a wide range of climates.
Modern commercial blueberry cultivation started with the daughter of a New Jersey cranberry farmer. Her name was Elizabeth White. In the late 1890’s, Elizabeth White was interested in the blueberry’s potential as a cultivated crop. However, most other growers at the time did not believe they could be domesticated. There was simply a lack of understanding on the basic needs of blueberries.
In the early 1900’s, a USDA botanist Frank Coville began to study North American blueberry species with an intent to develop improved varieties for commercial cultivation. Coville had already made history in the world of US botany as a field botanist on the first comprehensive, multidisciplinary expedition to Death Valley in the early 1890’s. He would later go on to become the chief botanist for USDA, publishing over 170 scientific papers and books in his lifetime.
In 1911, Coville published a book title, “Experiments in Blueberry Culture”, in which he documents his research and the work of others in the early 1900’s focused on cultivation of Vaccinium species in the US. Coville’s groundbreaking discovery was that blueberries require very acidic soil conditions, which was previously not understood.
Back on her cranberry farm in New Jersey, Elizabeth White read Colville’s 1911 book and immediately contacted him. She offered acreage on her farm for research and development, partnering with Coville to lay the groundwork for our modern blueberry varieties.
If you decide to go blueberry picking in Georgia, There are plenty of places to pick blueberries especially in the Atlanta area, but for most trips, we end up at Berry Patch Farms, located in Canton, Georgia. It’s a 20 minute drive from our home and they greet you with a smile every time, use no pesticides, and best of all, offer plenty of blueberries.
Below are a few tips to help you have a success day of picking
- Call ahead
This is the most important step you can take to have a successful day of blueberry picking in Georgia. Most farmers do not update social media every day, and the picking conditions can change drastically day-to-day, especially if there’s been rain or a dramatic change in temperatures. Calling ahead could save you the potential for a disappointing trip if they’ve had to close early.
- Arrive Early
Especially on the weekends, going right when the farm opens (or shortly thereafter) means you’ve got the best shot at the berries, and less-congested fields. Waiting until mid-day means you might be fighting crowds, unbearable heat, and the picked over berries.
- Be Selective
Select plump, full blueberries with a light gray-blue color. A berry with a hint of red isn’t fully ripened. White and green colored blueberries will not ripen after they are picked; while blueberries that have already turned purple, red or blue-ish usually DO ripen after they are picked
- Have Fun
Berry picking can a great activity for kids, as long as you remember keep it as just that—a fun activity. You are not going to pick 5 gallons of perfect berries during a singe outing with your kids. If you can manage your expectations and focus on having fun it will be a great trip every time.
During our last trip, it was REALLY hot. After busting my butt for an hour in scorching heat and battling dehydration I discovered I picked only 4 dollars worth of blueberries. In that moment, I felt like a failure. To them, I was still their hero.