We've all walked into our local market and taken a leisurely stroll past perfectly stacked berries, always radiant in their vibrant hues and just begging to be enjoyed — but have you ever wondered where those perfectly ripe berries come from?
One brand of berries you may notice over and over again at several different markets, Driscoll’s, wants you to know the answer to that question. Their packaged slogan, "Only the Finest Berries," isn't an empty statement; they believe they have a story to make that slogan a trustworthy testimonial, and they told it through a recent exclusive tour given to The Daily Meal at the Watsonville, Calif., Driscoll’s berry farm.
The tour began over breakfast (a platter of perfectly ripe berries), with a talk given by Doug Ronan, vice president of marketing for Driscoll’s. Ronan discussed the impeccable dedication the company has had for their berries for more than a century, and he explained how they maintain that with the market’s growing demand. "[All] 52 weeks of the year we breed premium berries for more than 55 countries," explained Ronan, with the United States being the biggest market. "Blueberries are doubling every five years and the demand of organics is growing to two times the amount of conventional berries."
The tour quickly shed light on the large amount of research and development that is involved in order to make their berries what they believe to be the finest in the world. Ronan was followed by Dr. Phil Stewart, principal scientist for Driscoll’s, who told the group about the work that Driscoll’s does when producing their berries.
You might be thinking, strawberries actually need a scientist? Yes and here is why: Driscoll’s hires people like Stewart to use natural breeding methods, as well as extensive field-testing, to create Driscoll’s patented varieties. Stewart explained that they rely on natural "hand-crossing" pollination techniques to continually improve their berries. In layman’s terms, this means that scientists deliver pollen to a berry from a different plant, taking careful and tactical measures to make the perfect berry.
Natural breeding methods involve a lot more "busy workers" than just Stewart. Honeybees are also on staff at Driscoll’s, and provide natural pollination management, thankfully at little cost to the company. Every year, Driscoll’s releases thousands of honeybees into their fields to aide in the pollination process. When this process is complete, Driscoll’s professionals then sit down to study thousands of potential varieties for them to sell. Only the top 1 percent of a specific variety is chosen to farm and sell to independent farmers under the Driscoll’s brand.
As the tour continued into the Central Valley’s ideal berry farming climate, the group was met with Roy Fuentes, a Driscoll’s berry grower at Fuentes Berry Farms, and what he told the group stunned us.
"To keep our berries organic and free from pesticides, we release 'predators' onto the farm," explained Fuentes. "Once a year we release ladybugs to eat the blackberry-munching [plant lice]." Who knew ladybugs could be so useful?
Fuentes went on to explain that the blackberry cycle starts in January and is about a year-and-a-half investment. At Fuentes’s Berry Farms, they are committed to organic berries, which brings in another member of the tour group: Whole Foods Market, where organic berries are in high demand. "Organic is where it is going to be," says Fuentes. "I tell my kids: you commit to ground zero and up."
After special care from farmers like Fuentes, Driscoll’s principal scientists are joined by Whole Foods Field inspectors, like tour member Bob Flood, to inspect the ripened berries. They are then hand-picked and packed in the field and sent to a nearby Driscoll’s cooler. There, they are chilled to remove field heat, and prepared for immediate shipment to local stores.
So as you can see, there’s a lot more to those beautiful berries you find at the store. What’s more, organic stores such as Whole Foods Market, also play a hand in ensuring that you have the best pick of what’s available to you.
So next time you’re wondering about those Driscoll’s berries you picked up at the store, check out Driscoll’s Follow Us to the Farm program, which allows berry lovers to trace their package of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries all the way back to the farm where they were grown.
And while they’re great all on their own, berries are often just the beginning to something delicious. To show us what to do with our berries, Driscoll’s and Whole Foods Market shared a handful of easy recipes to create at home. Whether it’s something savory like a blueberry balsamic-glazed chicken or a light spinach and strawberry salad, you’ll see that the end result of these berries is just as sweet as their beginning.