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Blue Fields

Although we have picked blueberries on this Island for generations and blueberry pies, muffins and pancakes are high on our culinary list, nothing could prepare us for the blue fields we are surrounded with in this first year of the new Millennium. Last year they tell us 4.2 million pounds were harvested from the 10,000 acres that are in various stages of development. The prediction is that when these farms have matured they could produce 7000 to 14,000 pounds per acre. That is a long way from the report in the Guardian of 1921 on Mr. Johnston's plant in Mount Stewart. They expected that year to ship 50 tons - a lot less than the 140 tons they had shipped the year before. Packers were getting 5 cents a pound in 1921. Last week Queen Street Meat Market [on University Avenue] were selling 10 pound boxes for $17.95 for fan cleaned and $25.00 for handpicked ones. That is another thing handpicking is going out of style. There are now machines, some made by the Weatherbee's in Stratford PEI that do all the picking and other machines that worry about the cleaning. Funny thing about blueberries, they don't need to be planted. You just have to get land were they grow naturally, clean it up and spray the weeds and the blueberry becomes the finest ground cover you can imagine. Of course there are issues that we have to think about. For one thing many of the acres that they are using have been clear cut from 12-20 year old tree plantations, then there is the degree of spraying and how that affects our drinking water and to say nothing of the moon-like landscape it has created on our Island. The biggest surprise to anyone near a blueberry patch when the berries become ripe is the repetitive sound of the propane cannon that goes on and on from dawn almost to dark scaring the birds away. One first thinks they are near a battle field and it can be a bit disconcerting until it becomes downright annoying. There is one thing tho' that seems very positive and that is the berries' antioxidant qualities. Prevention Magazine has been hailing the blueberry as the miracle berry . They and others claim that it can protect us from the effects of age-related deterioration of the brain such as short term memory. So eat up and make the Wild Blueberry Assoc. of North America happy. The larger highbush cultivated blueberry is no comparison to the wild ones. Addendum; Back to that Weatherbee who is the manufacturer of the harvesters, that reminds me that as early as the 1840's we had an Elisha Weatherbie who was a blacksmith in Lot 49 and he was manufacturing "the best warranted cast steel axes" . Even tho' there is a slight difference in the spelling there just might be a connection.

Written Tuesday, September 12, 2000 at 11:35 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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