Many thanks to the Berry Health Symposium for hosting me on the Oregon Berry Tour. As always, all opinions are my own.
Berry Health Benefits Symposium
The Berry Health Benefits Symposium is an international conference that brings renowned berry experts from around the world together in one place to share the latest berry research and discoveries. The 2019 Berry Symposium was held in downtown Portland, and I received a press pass to attend the scientific presentations, keynote dinner, and Oregon berry tour.
As a vegan foodie, I’ve had a long love affair with berries thanks to their incredible taste and health benefits, and the Berry Symposium was truly an eye-opening and educational look at this superfruit! The conference covered research findings in many areas, including various cancers, diabetes, gut health, heart health, metabolism, and more. The scientific jargon went over my head, but I appreciate the PhD students who took a few minutes to give me a simplified, as close to plain English as possible versions of their research. The most fascinating thing I learned was from the keynote presentation, where Dr. Mary Ann Lila presented recent findings on using berries as a topical treatment for wounds, inflammation, and skin damage from sun exposure and pollution. Is berry skincare the next big thing? Will we be snacking on berries while smearing berry masks on our faces in the not so distant future?
Oregon Berry Tour
On the final day of the Berry Symposium, conference attendees hopped on a bus and headed to berry country for an Oregon berry tour. People associate Oregon with its wine grapes, but its second most important crop is not to be overlooked. Oregon berries are bred for their taste, and 90% of fruit goes to the processed industry. You’ll never find a fresh marionberry outside of Oregon, but you will find Oregon berries in products nationwide as higher end brands prefer the quality and intensity of Oregon fruit to California product.
North Willamette Research & Extension Center
We started our tour with a walk through at the North Willamette Research & Extension Center. At this research facility, renowned berry experts Chad Finn and Bernadine Strik conduct berry crop research to produce berry hybrids with the most desirable qualities and help growers make educated decisions on how to manage their berry farms.
Our tour began with a glimpse at some off-season organic strawberry trials with open field vs. two types of tunnels. The goal of this study is to increase the height of the plant and grow larger fruit (as it’s easier to hand pick), while maintaining the quality of the fruit. Next, we visited research plots with different types of blackberries (trailing, erect, semi-erect), red and black raspberries, and blueberries, including the intense Mini Blues that weigh less than a gram each. All of these varieties are bred to have intense flavor and easy release with machine harvesting.
Last, but not least, we ducked out of the sun and 80+ degree heat for a berry tasting featuring an assortment of traditional berry hybrids and crossings: 6 strawberries, 6 blackberries, 3 raspberries, 3 black raspberries, and 6 blueberries. And yes, I sampled every single one at least once. The standouts for me were the delicious Columbia Star blackberry and the small, but mighty Mini Blues blueberry.
South Barlow Berries
South Barlow Berries is a family owned berry farm in Canby, Oregon. Husband and wife team, Tony and Zina Martishev, alongside their 8 children operate this 17-acre berry farm. The Martishevs got into the berry business back in 1997, when they began growing strawberries and selling them roadside. Prior to that, they had also been growing vegetables, but decided to make the switch and focus entirely on berries. Their berry plants come from nurseries like the research plots at the North Willamette Research & Extension Center, and this is where the plants are put to the test. The researchers rely on the growers to provide feedback on what works in a true farm setting, and the growers rely on the researchers for berry varieties with the most desirable qualities.
The Pacific Northwset is known for its quality fruit with flavor that develops slowly and steadily thanks to the cooler weather. Unfortunately, when the PNW is hit with intense 90+ degree summers, that makes the fruit turn red, but the fruit doesn’t size up and develop in the way that growers want. Let’s hope we don’t experience another crazy hot summer this year… fingers crossed.
In addition to strolling through the farm and sampling South Barlow Berries homemade jam (yum!), Tony fired up the berry harvester for a quick demo. Strawberries are picked by hand, but other types of berries cannot be picked without the help of a harvester. It’s typical to pick berries at night when it’s cooler. When it’s warm out, the fiberglass fingers of the picker may beat green fruit off the plant instead of reserving it for the next harvest. When it’s time to harvest, Tony starts picking around 10pm and runs the machine until 9am the next day. It takes some finessing to adjust the speed and thickness of the fingers on the harvester to reduce bruising the fruit. After picking, a lot of care goes into handling the fruit and the pallets to avoid damaging the product in any way.
Note: This post is in collaboration with the Berry Health Symposium. I received a press pass to the symposium and berry tour. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.