Beyond Organic: Nutrient-Dense Blueberries from Heaven
15 Mar, 2010
There are a growing number of farmers throughout the world who have gone completely against the grain of current industrial farming. They go beyond meeting organic standards and ceasing to harm the soil and crops with chemical pesticides. These farmers practice methods designed to bring about more nutritious food. It starts with treating the soil as the living organism that it is, and managing it to make sure it has proper nutrients that are then passed on to the crops that grow in it. The resulting plants are healthy enough to ward off pests and diseases, and the fruits and vegetables are known by a new term: nutrient dense. This means that the nutrients within the produce are far higher than crops not grown for nutrient density—a fact that can be scientifically tested. But perhaps the most interesting and rewarding test is taste. Once you’ve tasted nutrient-dense produce, you’ll be hard put to go back to supermarket produce which, in comparison, has little to no taste at all.
Bob Wilt of Sunset Valley Organics in Oregon is one such farmer. His blueberries are known far and wide for their unbelievable flavor. People drive for miles to buy them—or even order from all over the country.
Over a period of nine years, Bob has learned the needed procedures and has made the conversion from conventional farming to the methods that produce such nutrient-dense fruit. The reason he made these changes could perhaps act as a harbinger for today’s farmers who are still using conventional methods; it was a matter of change or watch his farm slowly die.
Before the conversion, Bob was also a conventional farmer. He’d grown up with such methods (his father had been a farmer too), and it was all he had ever known. So, in the mid-nineties, when Bob took a look at his farm and realized he wanted to improve it, he turned to the person who sold him his fertilizer. The salesman told him he needed to apply more nitrates, potassium and harsh herbicides. Bob followed the advice.
In 1998, his plants contracted a fungal disease that ruins whole crops. His all-too-helpful fertilizer salesman put him on a fungicide program. Bob did the program and the fungal diseases disappeared.
But by 2001 all of these toxins had taken a heavy toll. “I remember this like it was yesterday,” Bob told Organic Connections. “I went out and looked at my berries in April of 2001, and the fruit-bearing limbs from the bushes were maybe 6 inches long, instead of 18 or 20 like they were supposed to be. And instead of 10 to 15 buds to the limb, I had 2, at best 3. Doing the math, I realized I was going backwards, and it was obvious what I was doing wasn’t working.”
He did a bit of research and found a soil biologist right in nearby Corvallis. Over the next six weeks he made three visits to her, and she consulted him on the care of his soil. It was intense study. “I learned that what I was doing wrong was putting things on that were absolutely poison to the soil biology,” Bob related. “It’s a basic principle that a lot of growers don’t understand: you’ve got to have biology—meaning the right bacteria—in the ground because it’s the ‘stomach’ for the plant. The bacteria will do the digesting. The biology will transform the minerals to a form that the plant can then pick up. Without those minerals, you’ve got a plant but it’s not healthy. It’s empty. That’s what’s wrong with a lot of produce in our food system today; it’s got no taste and no nutrition.”
Over the next nine years, Bob made the changes that have resulted in the farm he has today. He quit using fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizer. He put in fish fertilizer. He spent four years developing an ideal compost. He learned how to impart minerals to the soil.
About five years ago, during the transition, Bob attended a seminar put on by one of the pioneers of nutrient-dense farming, Dr. Arden Andersen (see Organic Connections, July–August 2008). Dr. Andersen convinced Bob that “if you grow nutrient-dense crops, they will come.” Bob ended up attending a number of Dr. Andersen’s seminars and had him out to his farm several times.
Along the way, Bob discovered just how right Dr. Andersen was and realized how he could turn the nutrition he was putting into his plants to a marketing advantage. “Knowing that blueberries were going to be overplanted on a general basis, I realized I had to have a plan that would make my berries unique,” Bob said. “Why would somebody want to buy my blueberries instead of everybody else’s? Well, I knew that I was making mine far more nutritious with vitamins and minerals. When you have more nutrition, you have more flavor too. The consumer isn’t necessarily going to care that there are more minerals in blueberries—but they’re sure going to notice the flavor.”
They certainly are noticing. With the berries Bob grows now, he has learned from experience that if he can get one of his berries into someone’s mouth, 90 percent of the time he’ll have a new customer.
The fact that higher nutrition equals higher flavor is not just hopeful speculation either. Third-party independent testing, the results of which can be found on Sunset Valley Organics’ website, shows that nutrients in Bob’s berries range as high as 55 percent and more above the closest competition tested. Testing was done on regular supermarket fare as well as organic berries from other growers.
For Bob, the journey is far from over. “It’s a story that’s going to go on as long as I can run my farm,” said Bob. “And that’s a good thing. There’s a lot more I’d like to do.”
To find out more about Sunset Valley Organics’ blueberries, or to place an order, visit their website at www.sunsetvalleyorganics.com.