Last week I had the pleasure of touring the Rainier Fruit Company headquarters in Yakima, Washington. This amazing company farms produce on a vast acreage throughout Washington state. Their production focuses on blueberries, cherries, apples, and wine grapes. While I am a big proponent of buying organically grown produce, I will freely admit that until now I didn’t have a detailed understanding of how larger farms get their produce from the field to the store. I closely recorded everything I learned and am so psyched to share it with you. I am sure you will be as impressed as I am at how delicious fresh berries get to your local store in fewer than five days!
Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by the Rainier Fruit Company. The opinions and photographs in this article are entirely my own.
Fresh Organic Blueberries: From Field to Store 1 of 11
Organic Blueberries 2 of 11
The Rainier Fruit Company practices organic farming methods and follows all government organic guidelines when producing their blueberries. They farm many acres on several different farms located in the state of Washington. The three main types of blueberries they grow are Liberty, Duke, and Draper.
All the Berries Are Hand-picked 3 of 11
All fruit grown on Rainier Fruit Company farms is hand-picked. In this case, seasonal workers wear buckets on their chests and gently massage the clusters of blueberries until the ripe blue ones fall in the bucket. The whiter, unripe, berries stay on the bush to mature. This means each bush is harvested several times each season. The workers are specifically trained to pick blueberries, if they are picked incorrectly it could harm the bushes potential to grow berries the following season. The berries are shielded from birds, hail, wind, and sun by large nets that are draped all over the tops and sides of the fields.
Nothing Is Wasted! 4 of 11
Even when the worker picks the berries a few fall on the ground. Because of this, a soft net is placed under where the berries are being picked to ensure everything is caught. This way nothing goes to waste!
Freshly Picked Berries 5 of 11
Workers empty buckets of berries into baskets centrally located throughout the fields. Once a basket is full, it is stacked with the rest and they are put into cold storage. Then a refrigerated truck drives them to the processing plant. The cold storage is essential because it slows down the ripening of the fruit.
Minimal Processing 6 of 11
Blueberries should not be washed until just before you eat them because it will destroy their protective wax coating. To process them a worker pours them into a machine that arranges them in one even layer on a slow moving conveyer belt.
Conveyer Belt 7 of 11
Once berries get tipped over the top of the conveyer belt, they are presorted by a machine that is sensitive to berry weight and color. Any shriveled berries are discarded into a basket. These are sent to nearby plants to be made into juice, blueberry jam, or baked into blueberry muffins.
Hand Analyzed 8 of 11
Once the machine sorts the berries, specially trained employees analyze them. These people know how to quickly scan for any berry unsuitable for shipment. You can see they are wearing jackets even though it is summer. This is because the fruit is kept at very low temperatures to ensure they don't ripen too much in the warehouse.
Filling Clam Containers 9 of 11
Once the berries have been sorted and analyzed, those that are suitable for selling are fed into plastic bins, or "clams," as they are called. The clams are filled according to weight to make sure each box is consistent across the board.
Set to Ship! 10 of 11
Once the clams are filled, they are labeled and placed in boxes to be shipped to stores. At this point the berries are still in the cold warehouse and are shipped by refrigerated trucks. This way they arrive at your store perfectly ripe for eating!
Reay to Eat! 11 of 11
When you buy ripe blueberries, they should look like this. The dusty waxy exterior is the blueberries' natural protection against the environment. So, the heavier the coating the fresher the berry. Enjoy!