I stand in the field surrounded by blueberries. How many will be harvested today, I wonder. I’m in Tulare, California to see my first blueberry harvest. The season is in full swing and I’m on a tour with the state’s Blueberry Commission.
I eat so many blueberries throughout the year that the effort that goes into growing my intake alone must be considerable. The blueberry demands of the greater population? I can’t imagine.
Blueberries were merely an occasional treat for me as a very young person. My mother thought they were too expensive and didn’t know their health benefits, so she never encouraged me to eat them. Finding them on top of cheesecake or in fruit salads was a bonus. Blueberry pancakes or muffins anyone?
Then something very personal caused blueberries to become an integral part of my nutrition.
When I was 31 my father, Roger, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 65.
Around the same time research on the powerful health benefits of blueberries — one being the possible impact on preserving brain health and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s — was making headlines. I was listening.
I lead an active lifestyle, maintain a proper weight and eat right. My focus has always been on my physical health. Watching my father lose his memory, however, gave me reason to prioritize my mental health.
My experience with Alzheimer’s has left an imprint — a silent fear this disease will strike me.
I now do what I can to nourish my brain — seeking “brain foods” for my diet — and hope for the best outcome in the future. (I don’t give health advice. My nutrition approach includes blueberries after a combination of research and discussions over the years with my father’s health care providers.)
So today, a pilgrimage to one of the many fields in California where blueberries are grown.
My hosts guide me along the rows of blueberry bushes and we see some of the fruit is still bright green. Dozens of workers carefully maneuver through the bushes “color picking” only the deep-blue berries one by one.
I ask questions about the industry, but my focus keeps returning to the men and women tending to the blueberries. I’m amazed by their care and concentration.
I hope they realize how people depend on these harvests, and not just to make pies. It’s more than a field of blueberries to me. It’s a crop of life choices and I want to say thank you.
I drove home that day with a few packages of blueberries. I gave one to my mother, who now eats them diligently.
Author’s Note: I’m still researching the health benefits of blueberries. Here’s a resource I recently discovered: www.blueberrycouncil.org. Please let me know what you’re reading.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.alz.org.