Have you ever tried to buy berries without plastic in the shops? If so, you have probably noticed is almost impossible. Berries are nutritious fruits, low in sugar, high in vitamins and antioxidants, we should all be able to eat them without generating so much waste.

I personally get very frustrated, because I truly love berries and I would like to eat them often, but single-use plastic gets in the way; if frozen they are in a plastic bag and if fresh in a plastic punnet.

Last weekend, trying to find a solution to this problem, we finally managed to go berry picking, so in today’s post I am sharing some tips from the experience. 

Berry picking, the way to go

It is summer here in Australia, and berries season is on. Picking your own or buying directly from the farms is probably the most effective way to avoid all the waste – as long as you have the space to store them and you are happy to eat them frozen.

For a couple of years we have been saying that we would pick some berries, but never managed to do it for different reasons (weather was too hot, time constraints, other commitments or we just forgot it). Last year we picked some cherries not so far from our place, but it was just for fun and we ate them all in few days. Ironically cherries you can easily buy without plastic, even in some supermarkets.

This year all the planets aligned and we finally went blueberry picking. Woo-hoo!!!

Less pesticides

Here in Victoria, there are so many farms where you can pick berries, however I want to avoid conventional when possible. It turns out berries require considerable amounts of pesticides to protect them from insects and diseases, and residues are not uncommon in the fruit.

Strawberries and other berries are usually listed in the Dirty Dozen list created by the Environmental Working Group in USA, which means they have high content of pesticides residue and they recommend to consume organic as much as possible.

What’s on my food, a website created by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) in USA, also gives you an idea of the amount of pesticides that are found in some berries and the toxic effects on human health: StrawberriesBlueberries and Cranberries.

Even when I live in Australia and this information above doesn’t necessarily apply the same way, the tendency seems to be similar. For instance, CHOICE in this article shows how they tested strawberries from 31 growers in all states of Australia and they found that the majority of the samples had pesticides residues. Their verdict:

“If you want to minimise your family’s exposure to pesticides, organic is the way to go. Independent testing has consistently found much lower levels of pesticide residues in organic than in conventionally grown produce.”

Let’s go berry picking

The organic farm that I had selected is a bit far from our house, so we decided to try a farm called Avonsleigh Berries, located east of Melbourne. Their berries are not organic, but we were told they don’t spray their plants and use less conventional methods (like birds) to combat insects – we actually saw several insects while picking up the berries.

The staff was nice and friendly, we chose to go on a day that was cloudy and not very hot, thanks God. The orchard has a net but it doesn’t offer any shade, so on a hot sunny day is probably not a good idea to go there.

The plants were full of fruit however, the previous days we had had extremely hot weather and some of the berries were damaged. Blueberries are quite easy to pick, so it is fun and enjoyable compared to picking other berries – if you have picked blackberries before, you know what I mean, ouch!!

Last year that we picked some cherries, that particular farm used plastic bags in the buckets, so they could later weight the bag and sell you the fruit. I was disappointed, but later I realised they had really old scales (no tare option available). This time we were prepared, we took the kitchen scale with us and our own buckets. To my surprise and by default, they did tare the buckets before collection and wrote down the weight, so it was very simple to avoid the plastic. 

One of the things we struggled that day was to estimate the amount of fruit in the buckets, we were aiming to buy 8 Kg and we ended up buying only 5.5 Kg – And the scale? sitting in the car, thank you!!!

+5 Kg Blueberries

+5 Kg Blueberries

As a reference, we were 3 people and it took us around 1.5 hours to pick this amount. I think we were taking it slow, maybe next time we’ll improve the timing. This place also does farm gate sales in case you don’t want to pick, but the price is almost double.

They have blueberries until mid Feb, so if you catch this post and you are in Melbourne, you still have time to give it a go!

From this experience, these are the important items to bring:

  • Your own buckets or containers.
  • A kitchen scale.
  • A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Water, if possible in thermos so is cool and fresh.
  • Comfortable clothes – nothing nice as it was very dusty and everything ended up dirty.
  • Closed and comfy shoes – I recommend closed shoes due to the dust and irregular surfaces. 

Other important things to consider:

  • Go on a cloudy and not so hot day.
  • Check your freezer first to estimate roughly how many kilos you think you can fit there.
  • Some farms work with bookings (the one we went it is one of those), so call them to organise.
  • If it is too early or late in the season, call the farm to ensure they have enough fruit available.

Time to freeze them

Once we got back home, we rinsed them in, maybe 1 kg at a time and we started to process to freeze them. 

Regardless of how you are going to store them, it is ideal to do this step first: spread the berries in a tray and leave them in a freezer for at least 45 min – 1 hour, when they are frozen then transfer to a container, glass jar or bag. The benefit of doing this is that the fruit is loose so it is easier to remove from the jar. I learned this tip from the Zero Waste Chef a couple of years ago and it has been very useful to freeze without plastic, Thanks Anne Marie!

Freezing Blueberries

Freezing Blueberries

We used two trays and of course it took us a while to finish 5 Kg but it was worth it. Now I have several jars (I didn’t count them) and 2 silicone bags full of blueberries in the freezer. I also have some frozen blackberries from the garden.   

Glass jars definitely take up some space, so this can be a problem if your freezer is small, in that case reusable or even zip bags can be easier to organise, assuming you already have some around the house. 

Frozen blueberries in jars

Frozen blueberries in jars

I still have boxes of zip bags that I bought many years ago. When I stopped using them (because I didn’t want to continue storing food in plastic) instead of recycling them, I left them in the cabinet hoping they could be eventually reused in some ways. Well, when my mum is around she always uses them and wash them and when that happens I cannot deny that these bags help to save space in the freezer compared to jars or containers, but again not my preferred option.  

Other options?

The million-dollar question!

Personally the only plastic-free option I have seen here is a particular brand of frozen berries that come in a cardboard box. They are great, plastic free and organic, but imported from Europe! Not ideal.

Other alternatives I have heard:

  • Aldi: recently, I saw a photo from Aldi Australia, apparently they started selling Strawberries in a biodegradable or compostable containers, however it is covered in regular plastic film. I haven’t been to Aldi in long time so I am  not sure, but it is worth checking that option, at least a bit better.
  • Farmers Markets: I have heard people saying that they have been able to find plastic-free berries in the farmers markets. These are unicorns to me, I have never seen them, but again it depends on where you live. Also another option is to return the punnets to the farmers, apparently people have done this in some markets, it is a great idea to explore, at least the punnets are reused many times.

“The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future.”- Gifford Pinchot

That’s it for today. I hope you have found it useful. Let me know in the comments below: Have you found plastic-free berries? Have you considered berry picking to avoid plastic?

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Thanks for reading,