Hard Times for Huckleberry Picking

Huckhands

All reports I've been hearing from friends and wild crafters at the Farmers' Market is that it's been a down year for picking huckleberries. Friends that go to the same spot every year who usually get 6 or 7 gallons came home with three gallons this year. Mo Bereiter, Spokane's mushroom and berry man says the picking is slow and difficult this year.

So you can imagine my shock when we went on a hike yesterday and happened into the most abundant patch of huckleberries I've ever seen. At first the berries were small and scattered but the further we moved off the beaten path the more abundant and big they got. I think the key might be that while the lower elevation berry blossoms got zapped by late frosts, the later blooming, higher elevation berries made it through unscathed.

Scientists have been trying to figure out how to domesticate huckleberries for years without any real success. (For some reason you can't just dig up the wild plants and put them in your garden and get berries.) Dr. Dan Barney from the University of Idaho has been the pioneer in these efforts. In 2005 he indicated that they were 3 to 5 years from commercial production of the wild plant, but the downturn in the economy may have temporarily saved the huckleberry from those that would tame it. On April 21 the University of Idaho announced they were shuttering the Sand Point facility where Dr. Barney has been carrying out his huckleberry research.

As much as I love eating huckleberries, I hate the thought of some day being able to buy a five pound bag of frozen berries at Costco for $10. Some things just aren't meant to be turned into a commodity.

Picture: My "huckleberry hands" with their distinctive purple stains after picking berries yesterday.