The Hampshire College Farm crew caught a break from the barnyard and vegetable fields yesterday on a field trip to pick low-bush blueberries in the Berkshires. The purpose of the trip was not only to provide a fun learning experience for the summer farm crew but also to harvest blueberries that Bon Appetit could use in pursuit of our 100% Local Challenge. Nancy Hanson coordinated with the General Manager of the dining hall, Jim Lachance as well as Executive Chef Lydia Kumpa to determine how many blueberries the kitchen could use in a year. Knowing the tenacity of her crew, Nancy didn’t blink an eye at their request for 600 pounds of blueberries!
A caravan consisting of the student crew, Assistant Vegetable Grower Jason Dragon, and Food, Farm, and Sustainability Coordinator Jess Wissemann followed Nancy up meandering dirt roads in the early morning to The Benson Place, a historic blueberry farm in Heath, Massachusetts.
They were greeted by the managers of the property, Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, who led them up the hillside to the scenic “blueberry barren” and trained them in proper picking techniques. The crew used metal rakes to comb the hillside and collected over 30 wooden crates of blueberries in a few blissful hours on the breezy hillside.
Meredith and Andrew manage their 35 acres of blueberry fields with Organic and biodynamic practices. The fields are rejuvenated each spring with a controlled burn, a traditional practice that helps to control diseases and promote robust growth. The Benson Place is also home to a pollinator project that aims to create welcoming habitats for bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. The student farm crew learned about all of these management practices throughout the day and enjoyed experiencing work on a different type of farm.
After the crew had raked a large swath of the barren, they carted their crates back to the processing shed and spent the afternoon winnowing and sorting through the berries to remove debris. After many hours of intense concentration sorting berries on a beltline, the crew managed to exceed the day’s goal: 640 pounds of blueberries!
Low-bush blueberries (also known a wild blueberries) are smaller than the more common high-bush blueberries and are native to the colder climates of the Northeast United States. Because low-bush berries are smaller with less water content, they retain their quality when frozen and are therefor ideal for Bon Appetit to process now for use in the dining hall throughout the school year. Nancy Hanson hand delivered the blueberries to the dining hall last night and today Lydia and her kitchen crew are hard at work processing them.
Lydia already has a vat of blueberry jam simmering on the stove top which will be sweetened with Hampshire’s own maple syrup. Most of the blueberries are being frozen so that they can be thawed on an as-needed basis. The blueberries will be a staple in the salad bar and Lydia is already making plans for scones, muffins, bars, breads, and even a blueberry barbeque sauce!
To celebrate their hard work on this beautiful summer day, the farm crew enjoyed a lunchtime treat of vanilla ice cream and (because they just couldn’t eat enough yesterday) fresh blueberries!
photographs by Jess Marsh Wissemann