Bob's Story- Beyond Organic Blueberries

Sunset Valley Organics | Bob's Story Beyond Organic Blueberries

A New Way of Looking at Farming - and Health

(See this story on video >)

Health Leads to a Whole New Way of Doing BusinessBob Wilt, organic Blueberry farmer

It's taken many harvests to get to this point - four generations worth, to be exact - but Bob and Diane Wilt now know they're doing the right thing.  It's also the smart, sustainable thing and, as it turns out, profitable, too.¨  And it all began rather, well - organically.

Seven years ago, Bob Wilt's search for a way to better control his diabetes led him to a practitioner of holistic medicine.   What he learned would not only change the Wilt's eating habits, but transform their entire farm and business model as well.  It has put the family farm in Corvallis, Oregon, squarely at the forefront of the next big thing in organic agriculture - biological farming - and it has their crops producing uniquely sweet and remarkably nutrient-dense blueberries.

Transition to Organic Farming and Eating- and Beyond

When the couple reached out to their new doctor, the message was clear and simple: Eat healthier.  At the same time, the farm had been struggling.  The crops were declining, and the more traditional "cures" Bob did, the worse the plant health seemed to get.   Bob noticed a parallel between his own health and the health of his farm, and decided to make a change.  Bob took what he was learning about nutrition and started applying those same concepts to the health of his family farm's lifeblood - his soil.  He applied the maxim, "In order to be healthy, eat healthy", and healthy food comes from healthy soil.

For most of his farming career, Bob went about his business in the same manner as most farmers raised in his generation.  Bob was, as he likes to put it, a "good farmer", and in an effort to maximize his yields and stop the spread of weeds and other unwanted plants, he used a variety of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Conventional Farming Was Ruining His Blueberry CropsgirlPicking

Over time, he noticed the quality of soil and blueberry plants on the 75-acre farm was diminishing. And despite the use of those chemicals, Wilt was still seeing an increase in the number of insects and evidence of fungal disease.

"There were all the 'research findings' that told us those things worked," Wilt recalls, "but guess who was paying for those studies?   The pesticide giants - Monsanto and the rest.  Researchers and farmers alike got deluded and dishonest with themselves."

That's when the conversion to a different kind farming began at Wilt Farms - back in 2002.  At 52 years of age, Bob started doing his own research and initiated three sessions with a local soil biologist.  In just a short time, Bob was on his way to leaving the farming practices of old behind and "graduating," as he likes to say, from a crash course in Soil Biology 101, and he continues working with different soil biologists to this day.

That same year the Wilts decided to follow the emerging organics market and put the lessons learned from the soil biologist to work.  The first step was resisting the usual temptation to put all the familiar chemicals and commercial fertilizers on his crops.

"It was the old farmer learning some new tricks," Wilt says with a smile. "I learned that neatly manicuring your crops is not good for the soil."

That year the farm also purchased a commercial-grade compost tea brewer and began to produce their own specially-developed compost tea.   Compost tea is a rich, watery mix that is loaded with all-natural aerobic microbes (Note: Pathogens that can cause problems for crops are usually anaerobic microbes.) His compost tea, Bob says, contains a proprietary mix of minerals that are good for the soil and human nutrition.

Organic Blueberries: Making A Healthy Living Choicecompost

Here the concepts of personal nutrition and the nutrition of his soils continued to merge.

"When it comes to nutrition here in the U.S., it's not what we're eating," Wilt explains. "It's what we aren't eating.  Put more good stuff in soil, and your body will get more out of it." "If you're going to be healthy, you've got to eat healthy.   And if the foods you eat are going to be healthy, they have to be grown in healthy soil."

The initial returns from the new way of doing things at Wilt Farms were positive.  In their first year under the new rules, the rest of the area's farms yields were down about 20%, but Wilt Farms held steady.  And with each year it's simply gotten better and better.

Wilt says it took six years to return the soil to a healthy balance, and there is still a ways to go to recover fully after 60 years of soil depletion.  It takes a commitment and a lot of expense to return soils to health after so many years of conventional farming.

Beyond Organic- Biological Farming

compost for blueberries

To return the soil to good health, Bob resorted to making his own super-rich compost.  He couldn't find a consistent, high quality compost year in and year out, so he decided to make his own.   Bob knows that a great compost is the cornerstone of his nutrition package for the soil.  Now, In addition to better crops, the composting process evolved into another product that Wilt Farms could take to market.

To achieve optimal results, The Wilts use a combination of compost tea and their specialty home made compost.  The tea is brewed in what may be the northwest's largest tea brewer, designed and built by Bob.  The inoculum for  the tea is verma compost from worms who feed on the compost that he makes.

"We're doing some science right here that hardly anyone else is doing."

Sweeter, Flavorful, More Nutritious Blueberries that last longer

organic blueberry bush

Three years ago, Wilt Farms was certified organic.   Better still, the unique cultivating methods were producing the sweetest berries he and his customers had ever tasted.  And it's not just opinion.  You can measure it.

BRIX is a measurement that calculates the sugar content in fruit.   A typical blueberry checks in at between 11-13%.  Wilt Farms berries consistently rate at more than 15% or higher and have reached as high as 22% - basically twice as sweet as typical berries.

But that's not the sweetest part.   Independent lab tests have repeatedly shown that the techniques utilized by the Wilts produce berries that are significantly higher in a host of important nutrients, including vitamins A, and E as well as Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium - up to double the Vitamin A and 76% more potassium than conventional organic blueberries.

"It's a fact.   There's no doubting it anymore," Wilt points out.  "The produce being grown by the vast majority of farmers today has far less nutrients than it did 40, even 20 years ago.  And now we're smart enough to know there's no reason for it.  There's something we can do."

Good Firmness and Longer Shelf Lifeberries_bucket

All the effort and science that goes into getting minerals to the plant roots in their most available form enables the just-picked berries sold by Wilt Farms to stay fresh and firm longer.   Calcium in particular is key to a berry's cell wall structure and shelf life.  Wilt can pick their berries when they are "dead ripe" and at the peak of flavor, knowing they will hold their firmness and last longer than regular berries.

With berries this sweet, however, who needs vitamins?   As you enjoy a sample of his bounty, Wilt will be happy to point out that just a half cup of blueberries per day can double the antioxidant level in your body.

"I'm on a mission," Wilt says with unmistakable enthusiasm.

"I'm in business, so I want to make money.   But along the way I want to give something back.  That's where the nutrition thing comes in."

Shop by Berry Variety

"I bought some of your frozen blueberries and they are delicious, the best I have ever had. (Love them on my cereal in the morning.) " - Sandra

"3rd order! great berries thanks!",
- John Z. - CT

"We have tried organic dried blueberries from other sources, but none comes close to yours in flavor, texture, and sweetness." ,
- Colin B. MD

"Thank You - Delicious" ,
Mark & Vickie CA