Opportunities to Pick Your Own Blueberries During the COVID-19 Outbreak
“Stay at home” is certainly the best advice during this global pandemic. However, it is important to evaluate what types of resources you should gather at home with you. As an Agriculture agent, my perspective may be slightly different than most. While medical supplies and personal protective gear are critical if the virus has already taken hold, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare. My number one goal during this preparatory time is to “hoard” nutrition and build my immune system. Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible and maintain a strict vitamin regimen. The most important aspect of our society to keep in motion during COVID-19 is the food systems – that includes all people and infrastructure required for food production, maintenance, harvest, processing, transportation, distribution, selling and preparations for the table. The food systems are the most important operational systems that can protect us from this virus because they ultimately provide our nutrition.
In the most recent publication of the International Journal Advances in Nutrition, blueberries are touted as being a super-fruit due to their high concentrations of antioxidants and anthocyanins (https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/11/2/224/5536953). Of all the popular fruits consumed in the US, blueberries have the highest anthocyanin concentrations (387-487 mg/100g fresh) as shown in Table 1 (Kalt et al., 2020). Anthocyanins are the blue pigment phytochemical in blueberries that are ultimately responsible for their superior health benefits. Increased anthocyanin intake has been correlated with decreased cardiovascular mortality risk, 32% lower myocardial infarction, 10% reduction in hypertension, decreased inflammation, and slower rates of cognitive decline (Kalt et al., 2020).
With most of the public green spaces closed, the blueberry farm provides a needed opportunity to stroll through the trees and get some fresh air. Social distancing is feasible since several acres of blueberries are available to the public at a time. This provides a safer option from exposure than going to a crowded grocery store. Since you are the only one touching your blueberries, there is minimal risk of virus transmission on the fruit itself. In this arena, it is appropriate to hoard as many blueberries as you can pick since this option saves the blueberry farmers from excessive labor costs. Hopefully you will gather enough blueberries to last you through the year. You can enjoy them fresh for a few weeks in your cereal and smoothies, but they also store very well. According to the same article referenced above, freezing them immediately upon harvest is a wonderful way to maintain their valuable nutrients. After 10 months of storage in the freezer (0ºF or -18ºC), blueberries had only lost 12% of their initial anthocyanin concentrations (Kalt et al., 2020). Maintaining a nutritional balance through appropriate means (ie. fresh fruits and vegetables) is more critical than ever as we face the threats of this global pandemic. By picking and freezing blueberries, you will be more prepared in case there is a breakdown in certain parts of the food systems such as transportation and distribution which could result in the loss of availability in certain markets.
Where to UPICK?
Some local UPICK blueberry options in both Putnam and Flagler Counties are included below. Clay Ranch opened up their UPICK on April 3rd and they are very thankful for any and all visitors.
Clay Ranch Berry Farm, 1307 State Road 100 in Florahome (0.4 miles east of intersection of Highway 100 & 315)
Open Monday through Friday, 9:00AM til 6:00PM
Upick price – $3.50/lb (or Farmer picked 5-lb bags for $20)
HNH Blueberry Farm, 130 Bostwick Park Drive in Bostwick
Cowart Ranch & Farms – The Blueberry Strand, 8185 W Highway 100 in Bunnell
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension – An Equal Opportunity Institution.