Berry season is in full swing here. Strawberries are all but done, blueberries are coming on hard, and the vine berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, in all of their varietal splendor, are making a good showing this year, just as they pretty much do every year.
We pick up strawberries and blueberries in town from local growers. If I have to pick up something at the Ace Hardware, I also pick up a couple quarts of berries right there in the parking lot. For all others, it requires a special trip.
One of our former clients, John, runs a sizable, rural fruit and vegetable stand northeast of Salem. He’s is a nice guy, a family man, which helps, as this is a family operation, run by he and his brothers. His siblings manage the farm aspect of the business, and John runs the store, overseeing the buying and managing around a dozen employees. It’s not a small operation; nor is their berry selection.
There were four varieties of blackberries, some of which I was familiar, but wanting to try something new, and unwilling to choose blind, I went in search of John’s opinion.
It’s been a while, and my short hair caught him by surprise, perhaps even making him forget my name. It’s been a while. Yet, the conversation started off much the same as innumerable ones in the past: weather and farm productivity. We both agreed the spring was wet and cold, and while I have little in the ground to show, he has a lot with little.
The pumpkins are small even though the new treated seed they used has kept down disease and somehow repelled striped cucumber beetles. Then the pears didn’t get pollinated very well and several apple varieties have been hit hard with scab (to which I can attest as well), but at least we have our families and health.
And the choicest berry? “They’re all blackberries to me.”
Although a mere twenty miles separate his store and our farm, the farming practices are considerably different. Most of the land up there holds vegetables and fruit or filbert orchards. Down here, it’s mostly grasses, hay and wheat. And the drive home via the back roads reminded me of the difference.
It had been some time since I had been on those roads, not since last fall when I was photographing the field burns, but I had been on those roads often enough to see that much of what was fescue last year was now wheat. With the burn laws more restrictive this year, we knew that was coming.
Between the vegetable fields and grass there is a stretch of road on which lives a cluster of German families who are known to live by a very conservative Protestant doctrine. So conservative is this group that they have readily splintered into even smaller groups. However, two things they all share are a strong work ethic and large farms. One of these farms grows flowers for their seeds. The fields are every bit as colorful as the burned fields are brown and black. Within the next few days I will return to this area to do it more justice.