August 11, 2018

Wild Blueberries for Brain Health

Filed under:Diet,Family — Tags: , — BethInman —

by Jeffrey Brams for Garden of Life

I landed in Quebec City and picked up my rental car. Once I got into the car, my GPS said I’d be driving—due north—for a few hours. Buckled into my rental with my coffee and a great book on Audible, I set out for an adventure. I’d never been in the Arctic North of Canada before. Filled with small mountains, lakes, pine forests and a sky so expansive it reminded me of Montana, I found myself falling in love on this drive. This countryside was spectacular.

It was almost November. The leaves had mostly fallen and the stands of Pine trees were turning brown. Most of the farm land I passed was harvested and being prepared for winter. My hotel, located in the small town of Alma, was as close to my final destination as civilization would take me, still an hour drive to go at dawn the next day.

Why go this far to find blueberries? After all, we grow plenty of them throughout the Northeast, Wisconsin, even in the Pacific Northwest, and we already work with a unique tribal grower in Alaska. Why make this extraordinary effort?

Those anthocyanidins are so powerful that many researchers have dubbed the blueberry as the “Brainberry.”
We had been working for a couple of years with Dr. Perlmutter to launch a new line of brain health formulas. The unique wild blueberries from this Northern region of Quebec were being used in clinical trials that we were following very carefully. Encouraged by the results, we were working with the growers to scale up their ability to supply our new formulas.

We know how to work with organic farmers.

We know how to safeguard against genetically modified seeds and crops. But this was something new. This is WILD and organic.

This region was settled by European immigrants whose primary industry was timber. As they worked in the forests, they discovered significant growth of wild blueberries in its underbrush. The loggers’ families would go into the forests and forage for the small, sweet and delicious berries on weekends. A tradition was born.

Funny enough, when trees are removed from part of the forest, it actually encourages even greater growth for the wild blueberries. That allowed easier access to harvest the cleared areas. Because the forest is always in some state of transition between logging and regrowth, it’s not conducive for farming. But small loaders could easily access clearings and collect large hauls of ripe blueberries. A cottage industry was born.

Why are wild blueberries so special?
First, they are brighter, deeper in color, and richer in flavor than their cultivated cousins. That made them a prize for culinary and confectionary use. But more important to our interests were the highly concentrated phytonutrients that were deepening the wild blueberries’ color and making it so tasty. Those anthocyanidins are so powerful that many researchers have dubbed the blueberry as the “Brainberry.”

But wild as they grow, for Garden of Life, we needed the blueberries to also be Certified USDA Organic. That’s why we had to come this far north to find just the right Wild Organic Blueberries. Blueberries, particularly when they are wild, are plagued by maggots and other insects that can destroy the harvest. As a result, in lower, warmer regions, even the wild blueberries are often sprayed with insecticides. Of course, this treatment prevents them from being Certified Organic. However, this close to Santa’s Workshop, the cold air creates a completely inhospitable environment to these insect threats. No toxic sprays are ever needed or used.

As I met our farmer, I was once again reminded how important organic agriculture is to the future of farming. We talk a lot around our office about the changing face for farmers. Children are not following in their parent’s footsteps, pushing the average age of conventional farmers well into the 50s. But our Wild Organic Blueberry program, like so many of our organic farms, is led by a young, third generation farmer who’s Masters in Agronomy focused on organic practices. He has every intention of raising his young son to follow in his footsteps.