Photographed by:Dustin Knox
The air buzzed with heat, the sun beat down on our backs, and we stepped over shotgun shells strewn over the walkway leading us along the edge of a large field rowed with planters of strawberries and vines thick with blackberries. âWe actually try to shoot âem, but it's mostly noise,â Matt Unger, of Unger Farms (Cornelius, OR), reassures, when he catches us staring at the spent red casings. By 'em, he means starlings, blackbirds, robins, finches. Birds, basically, are pests. They do an estimated 150 million dollars of damage every year to berry crops in the United States. Matt Unger occasionally fires off his gun to keep the myriad berry-hungry birds as far away as possible.
Not wanting to die seems like a pretty good deterrent, because the Unger grounds, which total 144 acres, are thriving and don't at all seemed pecked over. At the end of our private tour, we thank Matt profusely. It doesn't occur to us until much later that we'd behaved pretty much like pests ourselves the entire tour, touching, sniffing, tasting everything. Our personal favorite was the soft, rich Obsidian blackberries, though the Ungerâs are best known for their larger-than-life strawberries.
The Unger Farm was just one of many berry farms represented at the Oregon Berry Festival, which we attended earlier that morning. The entire parking lot of the Eco-Trust building in Portland, Oregon was blocked off and tents and booths erected for a quasi-Farmerâs Market dedicated to berry propaganda and your taste buds. It was all very close and communal. People handed out pamphlets, set up signs. The Berry Health Benefit booth claimed that red raspberries alleviate Arthritic pain; that blueberries improve your memory; that strawberries promote cardiovascular health. Indeed, the Don Kings of the love muscle's longevity.
Oregon is also the developer and largest producer of what is called the âcabernetâ of blackberries, the Marionberry. The moniker is given for its bright and complex flavors, making it one of the most sought after berries coming out of the Northwest. It was actually born in Oregon too, born and bred at OSU. Oregon produces between 28 million and 33 millions pounds of this one berry annually. When it comes to all the berries, the Mediterranean climate of the NW is the perfect place for producing the sweetest and biggest berries in the world. But the marionberry really proves that the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. After finishing with the lot tour, we are escorted to a vendor area, where about fifteen separate booths hosted a variety of value-added products made from berries. Thereâs frozen bags of blueberries, cooking vinegars, confectionary sweets, and, our favorite, liqueursâ¦
By noon weâd had gin, lemon juice, and fresh raspberry cocktails (made well and strong by our friends at New Deal Distillery), and tasted at least three different liqueurs. Our favorite was the blackberry liqueur from Brandy Peak. We quickly snatched up a bottle for the office and then were off. Itâs a small reminder of the clean air, the stained hands, and the sounds of a shotgun going off in the distance.
Written By Alexis Sophie Kozak