If you’ve ever wanted to make something with fresh, delicious berries you’ve noticed they cost a small fortune for 7 oz of fruit ! Really, the prices on berries are ridiculous when you stop to think they grow freely on the side of the road.
Ah, yes, but are those berries the same as market or supermarket berries ? And what about those who live deep in the city, with no real access to wild berry bushes, or a wide forest ?
And back to the original question, when roadside berries are cheap (practically free), why are the plastic-wrapped ones expensive ? Let’s take a look.
Why are berries so expensive ?
Berries of all kinds are expensive because they’re a very fragile food item, need special care during transport and on the shelf, and are really tedious to pick. You need a lot of hands on the job, and the work is grueling. Aside from all this, the berries you find in supermarkets are bigger and keep for longer than wild berries.
The seeds for those bigger berries cost more than just transplanting wild berries. We’ll touch a bit on why that isn’t a viable idea as well.
In short, berries – be they strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, cranberry – are just a pain to pick and to keep fresh and whole. They’re very fragile, and the breeding program berries were developed to dampen that problem, but there’s only so much they can do.
Read also: Gooseberry VS Currant
You need a lot of manual labor to pick any kind of berry
Berries are small, very small compared to apples or oranges or bell pepper or eggplants or… you get the point. Since you can’t run a machine to pick them (fragile), they need to be hand-picked by hundreds of people. Out in fields, sunup to sundown, all within a window of a few weeks.
Depending on the berry, the bushes are very low on the ground, or they can grow as tall as an adult. For example strawberry bushes don’t grow more than a couple of feet, in tightly packed rows. You can’t sit down to pick them, nor can you sit up. You have to bend over or crouch to pick them. Hours on end, weeks at a time.
Blueberries. They can grow in large, tall bushes, and that means standing all day and looking at each berry to see if it’s ripe enough. It also means not touching them too much, to not brush off the fine white dusting they have (like plums). On top of everything else, blackberries and raspberries grow on thorny vines, which means even slower harvests.
We know this because we’ve personally done it, for about three weeks in the south of Spain. Fun work if you’re just visiting, but horrible, back-breaking labor if that’s your main income.
The majority of workers are immigrants, and they work long hours, six days a week. The story is the same across all countries and applies to pretty much any crop that has to be handpicked.
Most berries have a short shelf life, are fragile
Despite being bred for durability and size, berries are still fragile little things. This is because of their genetic makeup, they can’t develop a thick outer skin like a melon or an apple.
This means that they will bruise and crush very easily. It also means that their shelf life is fairly short, not more than a week or so, with strawberries being the absolute worst. The go from fresh, bright red beauties to moldy, blue-white things within 2-3 days. Sometimes overnight, if you keep them at room temperature.
Raspberries. They’re still very soft and will break apart easily. Worse, they can grow mold on the inside of those little caps, so you should maybe check them before washing.
Berries also need to be kept cool, at all times. If you let them sit at room temperature, they spoil overnight. They also need a fairly well ventilated plastic container to sit in, otherwise moisture will accumulate, and mold will grow even faster.
All of this amounts to a really complex and stressful supply chain. From the moment berries are picked, they need to be packed, stored in coolers, shipped in those coolers, and then brought to supermarkets that also need to store them in open fridges or coolers.
And they’re only good for about a week after picking, which means express transport and premium fees.
The berries you buy are from breeding programs
Meaning they’re bread to be larger, and have slightly thicker outer skin so they store easier. Even so, they don’t store for long. And because they’ve been bred for size and appearance, flavor takes a backseat in all of this.
Growing berries from seeds isn’t cheap, as those seeds need to be bought. They’re seeds from the breeding program, meaning they’ll cost more than seeds of berries on the side of the road.
But side-of-the-road berries are smaller, and will turn to mush a few hours after picking. If you live near such bushes, you’re in luck. They’re so much more flavorful, but not everyone has easy access to them. We know because we grew up in a mountain area where berry and mushroom picking was a common past time.
If you go berry picking, freeze some for later
If you do live in such an area, do yourself a favor and pick as much as you can, and fill up your freezer. When the season hits, they taste so much better than the big ones in stores. And if you freeze for later, it means winter won’t have to be a sad, no-berry season.
Imagine cranberry sauce made form actual, fresh cranberries that you picked with you own two hands, then saved for later in the freezer.
This is something you need to look into, since berry picking means knowing which berries are alright, and how to pick them. There are plenty of online guides on how to do this, so you won’t be on your own figuring out that strawberry bush.
Read also: What Fruits Are Berries ?
Berries don’t ripen after picking
Another important point about berry shelf life: they don’t ripen after picking. For example bananas can be picked when they’re still green, shipped, and then treated with ethylene to ripen on the shelf.
If you’re wondering what ethylene is, it’s a natural gas all fruits and veggies produce, it speeds up the ripening process. They also produce more ethylene as they spoil, which is why bananas turn brown so quickly after ripening.
So, berries have to be picked with perfectly ripe, and then rushed through the entire process we described above. As if a short shelf life wasn’t enough, not ripening just add more headaches.
A word on roadside berries
Let’s talk roadside berries for a moment. You may have a few bushes growing near your home, or you may know a nice patch of woodland that has berry shrubs on the outskirts.
These are the original berries, or forest fruit. It’s actually where berries came from, as most of these grew around trees, or near the base of trees. Berries often pick regions with a solid, freezing winter and hot summer to grow.
This means you can find them ripening in late summer if you go on hikes, but it also means they’re in their original form. Berries are actually kind of small. Supermarket blueberries are as big as a thumb nail, while wild blueberries are just a bit bigger than a peppercorn.
The upside is that wild berries taste better, because they’re allowed to run their course and develop sugars. They’re also unreliable, as they can be stricken by pests or disease.
Why not transplant wild berries ?
Breeding program berries are meant to combat all these issues, as they’re more pest and disease resistant. They also have a slightly thicker skin, meaning they won’t be squished as easily. And they grow much larger, making then easier to harvest, and less likely to lose fruit along the way.
But they lack in the flavor department, big time. Often they taste like they’re underripe, or simply have no flavor. If you’re missing old school tomatoes, you know what we’re talking about.
Despite all this, breeding program berries are better when it comes to profit. You get a reliable, consistent crop with fairly large fruit, that doesn’t take as long to pick as wild ones. It just makes more sense economically.
So in short, wild, roadside berries are delicious if you can find them. But if you can’t, you’ll just have to accept the reality of supermarket berries. They have significant advantages over wild ones, at least for farmers and retailers.
Can you grow your own berries ?
You could also grow your own berries, if you like. It takes time, effort, and a whole lot of patience. But he result is a delicious fruit that will definitely be superior to anything you could ever buy.
You’d need the seeds from wild berries, and then sufficient land to grow them on. Keep in mind that these (any of them) can get invasive, so you may have to trim them regularly. Several berry types grow together nicely, so you’re not restricted to a single fruit type.
We’re not a gardening website, but we can point you in some good directions if you’d like to grow your own berries. Here’s a few useful links:
- growing strawberries, from Gardenersworld.com
- growing blueberries, from Gardenersworld.com
- growing blackberries, from Gardenersworld.com
- growing raspberries, from Gardenersworld.com
- growing currants, from Gardenersworld.com
And that’s about it, now you know just how fragile these little fruits are. They’re expensive alright, but they need a whole lot of care after harvesting and have a very short shelf life.
If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.