How Do We Get Blueberries?
Have you ever wondered how some of our fruit ends up on our table? We have access to so many items that aren’t produced in Iowa that we give little thought to where they come from and how they got here, but if one takes a look at the life of a blueberry he may begin to understand all that goes into getting the delicious fruit from the farm to the table.
According to blueberrycouncil.org blueberries were first harvested in New Jersey only 100 years ago. In the United States 38 states grow blueberries commercially, but of those 38 only 10 states grow 98% of the U.S.’s production. These states include: California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington. In warmer states, blueberries may be picked as early as April. In cooler states, the picking season may not begin until August or September.
In the book, Hidden America From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work the author, Jeanne Marie Laskas, travels to Maine to stay with a group of migrant workers whose livelihood is dependent on the blueberry market.
According to this book, many of these workers are not legally living in the United States, “more than 50 percent of the migrant farmworker population is in the U.S. illegally” (Laskas 51).
Machines cannot pick blueberries- it must be done by hand. A machine risks knocking blueberries that aren’t yet ripe off of the bush, only a human with eyes and the ability to discern which fruit is ready to be eaten and which needs more time on the plant is qualified to pick blueberries. A human also has the capability of being more gentle with the fragile fruit. Blueberries have thin skins that can easily rupture if handled poorly.
Many of these migrant workers do not have plumbing or access to healthcare. Many of their children have migrated with them to the United States for better wages. Since the families often live in tents, they only have access to a single kitchen shared by many. While some places have reputations for treating their workers poorly. Maine, on the other hand, is known to treat their workers well. The wages are considered fair and the people treat workers well despite the less than ideal living conditions.
Wages for blueberry pickers in Maine may go as high as $2.25 per box collected. A worker, on average, can fill 100 boxes. At the end of the week, a worker may earn up to $1,350 per week. “Compare that with the just $375 a week picking Georgia peaches, or $400 down in the orange groves of Florida” (Laskas 60). Often this money is wired back to families or relatives in their home countries until the workers can afford to go home.
Once blueberries are picked, they are shipped out to grocery stores around the nation so we can all enjoy the sweet, antioxidant rich berry.