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Monday, October 25, 2010

Blueberries can be frustrating

I am addicted to fresh blueberries. Occasionally, I drive from store to store in search of fresh, plump, sweet berries, and sometimes I eat a whole 4-ounce container at one sitting. They make a great mid-morning snack!

But lately there haven’t been good tasting berries in my stores, and I wanted to know why.

So, I called my longtime business friend, Chris Martin (pictured here on the left with his brother Paul Martin). Chris is originally from New Zealand, but moved to the states more than 20 years ago and started a produce company. His first company was called New Zealand Gourmet and he imported many of New Zealand’s subtropical fruits and sold them to Frieda’s. Today, Chris’s company, Gourmet Trading, focuses on two main items: asparagus and blueberries.

During our recent conversation, Chris explained that some blueberry growing areas are behind in production this year due to weather conditions. In addition, right now is the time of year when there is a natural gap between Canada and Argentina supplies.

Chris emailed me this handy chart that shows what area fruit comes from and what times are peak of season. From the chart you can see that the blueberry season transitions from country to country throughout the year. It starts in May from California and moves north to Oregon, then Canada and all the way down to Argentina.

You may not have realized that fruit seasons transition so much. We’re kind of spoiled here in the USA -- many fruits and vegetables are now available to us year-round. As recently as 10 years ago, some items were only in season when locally available. I guess we call that progress.

However, there is a lot of debate in our industry about the importance and relevance of “locally grown” produce. Some say it’s more sustainable to only consume locally grown products, but what is the definition of “local”? Within 10 miles? Within 100 miles? Within your state?

On the other hand, some have done calculations that show it is more earth-friendly to purchase products from large-scale farmers in far away places because of their operational efficiency.

My personal opinion? I buy produce for two reasons: No. 1 is taste and flavor. No. 2 is nutritional value. I don’t mind buying apples from New Zealand or shallots from France. Our baby pineapples are flown here from South Africa, and I love Asian Pears (Nashi) from Japan.

Back to my blueberries… I was thrilled to be at a produce convention last week. Some of my closest produce friends sell fresh berries, so I got to snack on fresh blueberries all three days I was there.

I can’t wait until the peak of the blueberry season from Argentina, so I can go back to eating them daily!

What are your thoughts on the “locally grown” debate? Please post your feedback in the comments section.



  1. Right on Karen!! Local is preferred if tasty and nutritious; I agree the priority is not Local, it is tasty and nutritious, and could it be "appealing to eye" trumps local as well?

  2. I have to believe that the environmental impact of shipping an item across an ocean & then trucking it several hundred miles far outweighs "efficiency of scale" achieved by large growers. In a time when small scale production is being recognized as beneficial in many ways, distant (over 1500 mile) sourcing from large scale growers loses another point.

    Eating a particular fruit year round has dubious nutritional value in my opinion. It is widely acknowledged by the health community that increasing variety of foods is paramount to good health. The irony of "progress" is that while there are more choices than ever at the grocery store, the same choices are available year round. Many people will focus on one particular item simply because they can; eating fewer varieties of foods as a result.

    Eating items in season when locally available has the benefit of bringing a natural variety to our diets. Cantaloupe was always a special treat precisely because it was only available in peak season during the late summer. Available does not always equal high quality.

    We have not even touched upon the practice of harvesting fruit green and ripening it with gas at its destination. What effect does that have on nutritional value? It certainly does not sound like a benefit.

    Eat as local as possible (at least from the same hemisphere) and eat seasonally for the widest variety.


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