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Blueberries remain strong for Homegrown Organic Farms

homegrownblues Homegrown Organic Farms begins harvesting its blueberries in the San Joaquin Valley and moves north into Oregon as the season progresses.

Stephen Paul, stone fruit and blueberry category director for the Porterville, CA-based company, said the region’s dry and sunny climate conditions and Homegrown Organic Farms’ southern highbush varieties, provide “king-size” berries — all grown using certified organic farming methods.

“We were one of the earlier founders of blueberries in the state,” he said. “The Avinelis family was a pioneer in establishing some of the earliest varieties here in the San Joaquin Valley. Ever since then, there has been an evolution of improvement on multiple levels.”

That includes on the farming practice, varietal offerings, expansion into different regions, packaging equipment and mechanical harvesting.

“Over the last 20 years, blueberries have transitioned from a specialty crop into a global commodity available year-round,” Paul said. “The quality is getting better and better, and it’s not done, it’s continuing to evolve.”

He noted those who have adapted to the changes are the ones doing well. That’s never been more of a reality than with what’s been going on the past few months. Paul has been impressed with how the company has transitioned and adapted to COVID-19 concerns.

“We almost haven’t missed a beat,” he said. “We’ve moved into digital technology offerings to keep us all connected and it has mandated us to be on a high level of communications. It’s helped us to be more efficient, more streamlined and really more organized.”

In terms of harvesting, he credits the growers and their abilities to accommodate the necessary requirements of social distancing and controlling the environment in a very professional way.

“That goes from the field to the packaging operation to the cold storage,” Paul said. “As a company — and an industry — I think we’ve adapted quite well.”

As for the blueberry crop, Paul shared that there’s been a decent crop in California this year, and it went fairly smoothly outside of just a few storms and some excessive heat.

“We had a fairly nice crop and moved it quite well,” he said. “One of the things that happened is we went into the COVID-19 thing unknowing. We moved into larger box styles earlier so when the consumers went shopping, they had better value with more volume on the retail shelves. That proved to be very effective.”

As the company transitions to the northwestern area, Paul believed those larger formats will continue to sell well now that the consumers have gotten used to buying it that way, which will be profitable for the growers.

“Blueberries are a great comfort food,” he said. “There’s a certain happiness to it at a time when we’re seeing so many uncertainties, and it doesn’t require any prep. It’s just a great healthy snack that allows for enjoyment. Plus, the eating quality this year has been really good across the board, and that’s important.”

The secret to a good blueberry program, he noted, is consistency.

“You need high-quality, transparency, integrity and great growers,” Paul said. “We have a good seasoned team under us that is knowledgeable about the commodity and we know how to deliver the right product to the right retailer and get the product in the consumers’ hands.”

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