Monday, August 30, 2010

A Sad Farewell to Many Hands Blueberries

I miss "Many Hands Blueberries," grown at Cascadian Farm near Rockport, Washington for so many years and sold to PCC Natural Markets. This blueberry eulogy is for those delictable gems we may never see in PCC Natural Markets again.

This excerpt comes from PCC Natural Markets' Sound Consumer in 2005:

I can’t imagine one summer going by without enjoying an abundance of sweet, delectable blueberries. One seductive berry after another on a sunny August afternoon, and before you know it, the entire pint is gone. This is heaven.

And the best thing for me about PCC in the middle of summer is the luscious showcase of fresh, organic blueberries in the produce aisle. When you purchase these juicy local treasures with the label “Many Hands,” you’re doing more than indulging in a dose of healthy antioxidants. Money spent on the berries circulates throughout our local economy, helping sustain the farm, the farmworkers and the environment in the most delicious way.

These incredible blue delights are farmed by Jim Meyer and his wife Harlyn, who is in charge of marketing, sales and special projects. To get to the farm, follow Highway 20 east as it twists along the scenic Skagit River through evergreen trees and luxurious greenery. Just about three miles past Rockport the vista opens to a breathtaking view.

Okay, I get excited about these berries in the summer and a month ago, I walked into PCC Natural Markets in Edmonds looking for these berries. When I didn't see them I was told Cascadian Farm was only selling their berries for juice. The farm is owned by Cascadian Farm and the Meyer's farmed managed it for the company. The farm had been doing fine a few years ago, and I just wanted to know what happened.

I wrote to the editor of Sound Consumer and never got an answer. It all made me more curious. What happened to Cascadian Home Farm?

I phoned the farm but couldn't reach farmer Jim Meyer for comment. A farmworker told me, Jim wasn't supposed to speak to anyone and that they sold fresh berries only at the farm stand. She said the decision to sell excess berries for juice was dictated by the parent company--Cascadian Farm, which is owned by General Mills. The world's sixth largest food company isn't without it's own problems.

The farmworker told me it was the last weekend to pick or purchase fresh berries from the farm stand, so that's where we went on Sunday.

The drive was worth it because these blueberries sing in your mouth. Just squeeze a mouthful of berries and let the juice spurt--they're perfectly sweet with an amazing blueberry flavor. Close your eyes and eat one at a time, and it's blueberry heaven. I was dreaming about them on the drive.

It's a long drive to Rockport, and I convinced myself that I was entitled when I ordered blueberry shortcake. I asked the young farmstand worker about the blueberries at PCC Natural Markets and asked what happened to "Many Hands." She shook her head, moving from foot to foot,looking uncomfortable, so I dropped it and she said, "I don't know anything about that."

If I hadn't noticed a farm box with the name "Many Hands" written on the outside above the blueberries with half a flat, I might have questioned my own sanity. It was as if the "Many Hands" brand disappeared and no one admitted remembering it.

I wonder how PCC could let a good thing die and not acknowledge it? PCC had stocked blueberries from Wilt Farms in Corvallis 275 miles away. I just didn't get it.

Left to draw my own conclusions, I realized PCC Natural Markets also stocks plenty of Cascadian Farm and other General Mills products. General Mills bought big in the organic sector. Have some Muir Glen tomatoes with your pasta, then turn over a can of frozen juice and see which country it comes from. Examine the bag of frozen fruit and see if you find a country of origin. Some might call it a conflict of interests. I get it, but why would General Mills decide to sell the berries for juice?

At the market last Saturday, I posed the question to Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards who stared at me and then said, "The cost of farm labor makes it cheaper to sell berries for juice."

People are willing to pay for labor but companies are still seeking profits, and machine harvest costs less than picking by hand for the fresh market. Maybe I just have to vent sometimes but I miss Many Hands Blueberries in local stores.


Kathy said...

This is sad! Such fanatastic berries, what a loss!

ddzeller said...

They were the best!

Malia said...

I,too, have been puzzling about the absence of those incredible berries. Thank you for your sleuthing.

ddzeller said...

I was surprised when the Sound Consumer didn't publish my letter because I kept thinking I couldn't be the only one who noticed. The produce guy at Skagit Co-op said everybody had been asking what happened to these berries.