A Visit to Driscoll’s Berries

Driscoll's berries

Last month, I went on a really great (if far too brief) trip to California. I’ve been intending to write about it since returning home, but there’s been a cavalcade of events (a book deadline, a visit from my sister’s family, the departure of my intern, a week-long vacation, the return of canning classes, and 34th birthday celebration).

You see, my sojourn in Northern CA was a gathering of bloggers, hosted by Driscoll’s. We were invited to learn more about how Driscoll’s develops, grows, packages, and sells their strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

raspberry plants

Going into the trip, I knew very little about the ins and outs of berry growing beyond the fact that I liked to visit my local farms during the season and pick their fruit. Thanks to Driscoll’s and this trip (which was essentially a one-day crash course on the ins and outs of berry farming), I have a far deeper understanding of breeding, developing, growing, marketing, and shipping processes required to bring that clamshell of berries to my local market.

greenhouse

When you buy a box of berries at the grocery store, know that your fruit was at least five to seven years in the making. You see, Driscoll’s works with number of farmers to grow the berries. All those growers start with seedlings that Driscoll’s breeds, propagates and raises, to ensure that the berries they sell meet their very high standards of texture and flavor.

raspberry canes

It takes five years of growing before a seedling is ready to be shipping to the grower (one plant is raised into 100, those 100 are grown into 5,000, those 5,000 become 200,000 and so on. For five years). Before that, there were many seasons of growing, tasting, and testing before a variety was selected to be propagated. It definitely not a matter of picking up some seeds and planting a field.

rows

We spent much of our time on the trip talking about strawberries, as those were the berries that were currently in season in Watsonville while we were there (this was in early April). We visited the test fields where Driscoll’s develops their new varieties and got to pick and taste berries directly from the ground (it was amazing).

cluster of berries

One thing that surprised me to learn while we were in the fields was that each strawberry cultivar has a relatively short lifespan. That’s because they’re constantly tweaking the plants in order to make them just a bit more delicious (all this work is basic breeding science. They don’t engage in any genetic engineering).

tee-shirt motto

One thing I heard over and over again during the time I spent with the Driscoll’s folks was the importance of delight (in fact, Driscoll’s mission statement starts with, “Our Mission is to continually delight our Berry Consumers…”).

At first, I was a little taken aback, because I’d never before been exposed to a company that is so clear about putting pleasure and flavor ahead of profits. But truly, Driscoll’s does (they made it very clear that if berries are subpar, they are not sold).

berry tour boots

One thing I found particularly interesting was the fact that strawberries are only touched once before we bring them home to our kitchens. They are packed into the clamshells in the fields by the pickers, so the handling is incredibly minimal. The growers are all independent, but do work closely with Driscoll’s, to ensure that standards are being met in regards to cleanliness, ripeness, and general berry quality.

berry tracking code

Here’s another thing I learned while on this trip. You can actually track exactly where your berries are coming from. All clamshells are labeled with code stickers and if you go to mydriscolls.com, you can punch in that code, see a picture of the farmer who grew your berries and learn where the farm is located. I’ve been doing it with every box of berries I bought since returning from this trip.

Driscoll's berries

I’ve long been someone who believes that the most important thing to do is to support your local farmers (and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance that the Driscoll’s berries in your market are local). And during the summer months, I buy mountains of fruit from the farmers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

However, being in the recipe writing business means that I often need berries in January. Having been on this trip, I feel so much better about buying off-season berries from Driscoll’s, because I know they’re working hard to produce the best, most flavorful and safest berries around.

Many thanks to Driscoll’s for inviting me to learn more about their berries and for giving me the opportunity to meet a collection of other fabulous bloggers and writers.

Disclosure: This trip to California was paid for by Driscoll’s. However, my opinions are entirely my own.

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15 Responses to A Visit to Driscoll’s Berries

  1. 1

    This brings back memories of a trip I took to Driscoll’s a few years ago. It’s great to see that their mission statement values are still front and center. I likewise buy off-season berries from them. Thanks Marisa!

  2. 2

    Love this post, great to hear such awesome things about one of my favorite companies!

  3. 3

    I love Driscolls berries, so this is so interesting!

  4. 4
    Glenajo says:

    Thanks for the information! We love Driscoll’s berries, and eat them all the time. I’ll definitely be checking out their ‘home grown’ location.

  5. 5
    Marilla says:

    Wow! You know for awhile now, I have been stereotyping large companies as dirty, savage, and power hungry. This look into a large berry company and how they are putting quality over quantity is great! Thank you for the insight!

  6. 6
    Kim says:

    That is so cool – thanks for the report! Now I want to go buy berries so I can go to the website and put in the code! ;)

  7. 7
    Amanda says:

    So interesting to read this. Being in NY, we too prefer local berries, but now I won’t feel as conflicted buying Driscoll berries when I need to!

  8. 8
    Carole says:

    I was amazed when I read that they are packed directly into the shell at the field. I thought all commercial fruit went down a long assembly line before getting shipped.

  9. 9
    Joy says:

    All that’s wonderful news and I’m so glad you enjoyed your sojourn in the strawberry fields. But think on this – Driscoll’s IS very into profit – to the point that their fruit is shipped to Australia at a price less than the fruit can be grown there, and thereby making business extremely difficult for Australian growers. Food miles???

  10. 10
    Becky says:

    I cringe a little bit inside at the thought of buying berries that aren’t local, but I do sometimes find myself doing so. Thanks for this.

  11. 11
    E. Conley says:

    Had some of their blackberries once. And Id have to say, for a packaged blackberry they were by far the best I have ever had. Tho generally I try to stuff myself, freezer and pantry full of the wild ones I pick every summer on the 60+ partially wooded acres by our house =P

  12. 12
    Kathy D says:

    As several others have said, I try to buy local and therefore we mostly only eat berries in the summer. This makes me feel much better about the occasional off-season indulgence.

  13. 13
    Julie Standley says:

    I’ve been buying Driscoll’s at Kroger in Columbus Ohio for the past few years and, honestly, I’m so glad to see this blog! You always get it in your head that local is the only way to go, and I feel a little guilty about buying early-season fruit and veggies at the grocery store. But Kroger obviously does a great job of bringing in high quality produce that I can trust. This was very interseting for this Ohio girl – thank you!

  14. 14

    […] the folks at Driscoll’s berries (I wrote about the trip and all the berry tidbits I learned here). When I got back home, they asked if I’d be willing to write a post and recipe for their […]

  15. 15
    Christine says:

    Did you learn anything about their use of pesticides? I have always heard that berries from California especially are very high in pesticides, so I’m curious what was said about it. Do you have any preferred method for cleaning the berries to remove some of that?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blackberry Sage Jam Story and Recipe on the Driscoll’s + Berry Coupon Giveaway | Food in Jars - August 5, 2013

    […] the folks at Driscoll’s berries (I wrote about the trip and all the berry tidbits I learned here). When I got back home, they asked if I’d be willing to write a post and recipe for their […]

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