How New Jersey Tamed The Wild Blueberry For Global Production

 

Final inspection of frozen blueberries at the Atlantic Blueberry Co.

Final inspection of frozen blueberries at the Atlantic Blueberry Co.

Dan Charles/NPR

Nearly every plant that we now depend on for food — from wheat to beans to tomatoes — comes from ancestors that once grew wild on hills and in forests.

In most cases, we don't know who, exactly, tamed those plants. We don't know which inventive farmer, thousands of years ago, first selected seeds and planted them for food.

The blueberry, though, is different. We know exactly who brought it in from the wild, and where.

It happened in the pine barrens of New Jersey.

100 years of building a better blueberry

 
Posted: March 28, 2016

 

 

Life is just a bowl of cherries, but where would we be without the blueberry?

It fills pies that shout "summertime," transforms pancakes, brightens cereal, glorifies vanilla ice cream, and perfects the muffin.

So you might think that fat, sweet blueberries have been around, like sunshine, forever. But no.

Nature gave us instead the small "swamp huckleberry," as the wild blueberry was once known in these parts.

It took Elizabeth White, a visionary young farmer from Burlington County, working with an inspired botanist, to launch the modern blueberry industry 100 years ago.

Now worth $850 million annually, the industry literally traces its roots to the Pinelands.