I know it was idyllic. I know not every blueberry for Cascadian Farm is grown on this farm or in this way, but I was impressed with the original Cascadian Farm and the tasty blueberries I ate straight from the bush in the Pacific Northwest sunshine.
As our bus rolled up to the charming little roadside stand bearing the familiar name from our freezer I looked out the window at the mountains looming on the horizon as the fog was burning off. They were the majestic Cascadian Mountains and they’re capitalized for a reason, because they are freaking beautiful.
In the Skagit (skadget) Valley along the river of the same name is the original farm that launched the brand with the mountainous logo. When it was started it was an desolate yet fertile place where the growers were trying to get away from the masses. They started an organic enterprise and called it Cascadian Farm. It’s become quite a force in the organic market and while not perfect this little slice of heaven is pretty darn impressive.
Greeting us as we exited the bus was Farmer Jim who runs this farm for profit. It’s not just a figurehead, it’s an honest to goodness farm. And I was about to learn, Jim knows his stuff. First we got a tour of his much loved blueberry bushes. Overhead flew some large helium balloons which were not there to announce our arrival but rather to simulate ‘angry birds’. The little birds who like to eat the berries from the top of the bushes are apparently terrified of these ‘angry birds’ and are forced to hide out under the bushes eating the berries that fall to the ground rather than the plump juicy ones that the sun has warmed for our bellies. This ‘angry bird’ method is also fairly cheap. You can buy 5 helium balloons for $250. Your other option would be to net the bushes which is costly for both the net and the labor.
As far as I could tell it worked well – I ate about a quart of blueberries right off the bush with no birds, angry or otherwise, to contend with. You’ve never seen a group of people walk so slow as through a gauntlet of blueberry bushes flush with fruit.
From there Jim walked us to his compost pile. Conservatively it ran 30 yards long and 10 feet wide. The moment of the day was watching him plow into that pile all the way up to his armpit so he could pull out a steaming pile of compost. Vegan, he contended, as no animal refuse went into it. And by the way, when I said steaming, that was not floral prose – that was honest to god truth. You could feel the heat emanating from that fistful he pulled out.
As we stood by the compost pile he launched into a lecture on fungi. I’ve always been a fan but I learned something new that truly astounded me. Fungi work with trees in a similar way that our nervous system works within our bodies. Seriously. I knew that mushrooms tended to grow around trees and that they had a symbiotic relationship with them but here’s the zinger. The fungi are the communication system between plants. If a tree is cut down the fungus runs over to the other trees and tells them. Then those trees will lean toward the open spot and drop more acorns to take over that spot. Not really very different from high school when the jock would break up with the cheerleader and the gossip mill would encourage #2 to enter in. I digress, back to farm stuff.
As we left the compost pile and plodded up to the upper fields I was soaking in the clean air and sunshine and generally enjoying life. At the top of the hill we were greeted with hearty kiwi, raspberries and a first year strawberry field. We learned how Jim meticulously plans his plots because crops can only grow for a certain amount of time on a particular parcel of land due to their idiosyncratic tendencies. Take strawberries. The first year they barely fruit. The second year is the best with the sweetest fruit flowering. The third season is really it and then they need to move on like visiting relatives. I suppose fish and strawberries stink after 3 years. Or was that visitors?
The raspberries on the other hand have a longer lease on land at 10 years. Their first year they produce the primal cane, the original shoot that comes up and then in subsequent years they produce the floral cane which shoots out horizontally and presents you with delicious magenta raspberries. The additional coolness factor is that this crop rotation which protects the soil also is a technique to protect the crops from pests. An eating pest will continue to eat while a hungry pest will continue to be hungry. (I know I’m pulling at straws with these analogies but now it’s a challenge to keep it going).
This trip was informative but more important than that it reminded me that we cannot take our farmers or farming for granted. When Jim moves on I hope that he has passed this knowledge on and that it does not skip generations. We cannot afford to lose this crucial knowledge for even a few years. Imagine if all the farmers disappeared and we had to learn how to do it all again from scratch. It would be devastating in a most basic way. I pray every day that there are people who aspire to this noble profession. I pray that it does not fall into that category of jobs that most Americans categorize as ‘undesirable’ and leave to our global partners to fulfill.
We eat three times a day and the quality of what we put in our mouths is directly seen in our health, our moods, our livelihood. I encourage you to get back to the farm whenever you can and shake the hand of the people who put food on your plate. After all, food doesn’t come from grocery stores, it comes from people who have learned to harness the transformative energy of the sun.
Farmer, a humble title for those with so much power.
Claudia works at MOMs Central.
Cascadian Farms Whole Wheat & Blueberry Muffin Recipe:
|2||tablespoons packed brown sugar|
|1/4||teaspoon ground cinnamon|
|3/4||cup fat-free (skim) milk|
|1/4||cup vegetable oil|
|1||cup all-purpose flour|
|1||cup whole wheat flour|
|3||teaspoons baking powder|
|1||cup Cascadian Farm® frozen organic blueberries (do not thaw)|
|1.||Heat oven to 400°F. Spray 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray, or place paper baking cup in each muffin cup. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside.|
|2.||In large bowl, beat milk, oil, honey and egg with spoon. Stir in flours, baking powder and salt just until flours are moistened (batter will be lumpy). Gently fold in blueberries.|
|3.||Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (cups will be full). Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan.|
|High Altitude (3500-6500 ft): Decrease baking powder to 2 teaspoons.|