Food miles, the distance food travels from harvest to table, are a measure of the depth of the environmental footprint of what we eat. The higher the number, the more energy is required to fill our plates. The lower the number, the slimmer the impact of our nourishment and enjoyment. Local berries, whether foraged or farmed nearby, are a seasonal opportunity to lower a household’s food miles.
To forage a berry is one of the great pleasures of life in Western Pennsylvania. Happiest at the sunny edges of wooded areas, wild varieties of blackberries, raspberries, and wineberries ripen between late June and late July. Braving their briars is required, of course, but what a reward: each ripe berry is a burst of tart, sweet, perfumed flavor. If you can resist the temptation to eat them all right there on the spot, they make wonderful muffins, pies, jellies, and jams. We think they make a wonderful mocktail, too, and we’re happy to share Contributing Editor Anna Calabrese’s delicious Blackberry Mocktail recipe.
Strawberries ripen a bit earlier than wild blackberries, but it can be difficult to find a patch of ripe fruit before the rabbits, deer, and birds get to them. Farmed strawberries are a surer bet, and you can find them at farm stands and farmers’ markets from late May until the end of June. At the peak of the ripening cycle, many farms open their fields for pick-your-own afternoons. This old-fashioned family fun is a chance to help even little kids learn about the food on their plates and appreciate the bounty of Mother Earth.
Visiting a specialty farm like Mount Pleasant’s Sand Hill Berries gives even deeper insight into berry growing. Their many varieties of strawberries, raspberries, currants, and gooseberries are grown for their astounding flavor, and the on-site bakery and kitchen produce astounding berry pies, cordials, jams and jellies, and more.
As we head into berry season, make plans to visit a farm and learn about their crops. Enjoy them fresh or bring out grandmother’s recipe cards and revive one of her pies or jams. You’ll be avoiding berries from California and Mexico, reducing your food miles, and putting some excellent food on your family’s table.