By Sara Bir
Blackberries are perhaps the best known of all foraged wild fruits. Whether they grow modestly on the perimeters of a ramshackle farm or thrive ruthlessly along the banks of a forgotten creek, there are hundreds of hidden wild blackberry havens waiting for opportunistic berry fanatics.
Blackberries exist to lure the weak-willed away from the straight-and-narrow path. Their thorns will scratch, and the company they keep can hurt you. Everything flanking straight-and-narrow paths is bound to be interesting, so I say go for it, but I do have a cautionary tale.
Years ago I had just moved to California and was happily exploring the town of Sonoma, where I had recently set up in a little apartment. I discovered a bike path and trails branching off it into the hills, where my running route wound through madrone groves and next to vineyards. In those days I ran for hours and hours under the blare of the midday summer sun, and it made me a little loopy. When I noticed blackberry brambles not far off the bike path, I got right up in them and gobbled up berries to rehydrate. What I didn't notice in my frenzy was poison oak—blackberries have an affinity for it, as tomatoes do with basil—and the back of my hand must have grazed a cluster right before I used that same hand to wipe giant beads of perspiration off my face.
A week later I had a robust breakout of seeping poison oak blisters on my upper lip. The ooze of the blisters would dry into a crust the color of light amber. It took all of my willpower not to pick at it constantly. While so afflicted, I met Julia Child at a book signing. As she kindly inscribed my copy of Baking with Julia and offered earnest advice about a career in food writing, all I could think of was my marred face.
If I had not contracted that poison oak, perhaps I'd have been more receptive to Julia Child's career insights and not floundered around for years working crummy retail jobs and scrounging for oddball freelance gigs. But I'd not be who I am today. And guess what—I still get rashes from overenthusiastically taking off after trailside fruit! I have learned nothing!
The blackberries in question were undoubtedly the invasive Himalayan blackberry brambles that overrun hillsides and choke out native species, but that does not mean the fruit of these dominating opportunists cannot be harvested and eaten with aplomb (just look out for poison oak or poison ivy). Himalayan blackberries (R. armeniacus) are not prized for their flavor—I find them sour and wan, though if you're in the middle of running 12 miles (19 km) they hit the spot like nothing else. And if you come across a lot of them, there's always our good friend sugar to make them more palatable.
Disappointingly, the Himalayan blackberry is not from the Himalayas. It originated in Armenia and was introduced to Europe in 1835 for people to cultivate as a crop on purpose, if you can believe that. Like a gremlin doused with water, it escaped its confinement and rampantly spread throughout the continent. America's own beloved plant maestro Luther Burbank introduced it in America in 1885, likely with no suspicion of how aggressively it would take root all up and down the West Coast. Burbank's aim was to develop fruit and vegetable plants that would withstand long periods of shipping—this was when our nation's transcontinental transportation network was coming into its tween years—so residents of our increasingly urbanized cities could have access to fresh produce. It's Burbank who named it the Himalaya Giant, for the size of the berries. He sold the seeds through his seed catalog.
Feral Himalayan blackberries are deeply intertwined with the cultural identity of modern residents of California and the Pacific Northwest. The thickets are everywhere, at once loved and loathed. Tom Robbins set his 1980 novel Still Life with Woodpecker in a Seattle suburb where an exiled king and his family live in a house surrounded with a natural barricade of blackberries. Homeowners and naturalists engage in a never-ending battle with its burly, snaggy tendrils. My brother, who does non-native plant removal, owes his livelihood in part to Himalayan blackberries.
And yet there are the berries themselves, a seasonal token of redemption for the Rubus armeniacus, a plant impossible to eradicate. Therefore, we must coexist. If the truce lasts only as long as the berries, so be it.
Of course, there are hundreds of varieties of blackberries, native and crossbred. Some have thorns; others don't. Blackberries and raspberries both belong to the genus Rubus. Think of them as the patriarch and matriarch of the bramble clan. The extended family of Rubus pedigrees (boysenberries, loganberries, tayberries) are considered blackberries regardless of their color, because once picked, they retain their firm white core (or receptacle); raspberries don't. This receptacle is why blackberries have a longer shelf life than raspberries—they don't crush as easily.
Late summer is the time for blackberries. Farmed crops start coming into season in the middle of June, but the best wild berries don't start appearing until July, with holdouts ripening into September. An old English folktale warns against picking blackberries after the fall, when the devil makes a mark on their leaves and claims them as his own, although in reality it's more likely birds would have claimed the berries by then anyway.
Gathering fresh blackberries is not without its perils—insects, blazing sun, scratchy weeds—but the rewards are many. Few activities tap so directly into the spirit of summer.
Native to Asia, Europe, and North and South America, blackberries can be found growing on all continents except Antarctica. In Europe and in North America, blackberries have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years; various preparations of blackberry juice, leaves, and bark were said to soothe eye and mouth ailments, aid digestion, relieve toothaches, and remedy dysentery. Today the focus is more on blackberries' nutritional value: They are rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber.
Harvesting and Storage
Ripe blackberries are deep, dark purple-black—not purple, and certainly not red or green. Berries on a given plant ripen in stages, offering opportunities to revisit a patch to replenish supplies as the weeks pass. Blackberries ripen only on the branch and will not become sweeter during storage. When picked, a ripe blackberry should come free of the plant with nothing more than a gentle nudge. Watch out for thorns, too; not all blackberry bushes have them, but most wild ones do.
Once picked, blackberries don't hold up very long. Blackberries kept at room temperature may mold quickly, so refrigerate them 3 to 4 days, tops; as the blackberries age, they lose their sheen and plumpness, taking on a slightly withered, matte look. Like most other berries, wash them directly prior to eating and no earlier; a premature rinse will lead to mushy berries.
Barring an all-out bonanza of fresh berry eating, there are two ways to make good on a prodigious blackberry harvest. One is to launch into a frenzy of canning; the other, which is less demanding and more versa- tile, is to freeze the berries. You don't need pectin to make jam, but many like to add it. Soft or squishy berries that are still good flavorwise are a smart addition to shrubs, sangria, sorbet, compotes or anything saucy.
Balsamic Blackberry Compote
Makes about 2 cups (480 ml)
Showcase the last berries of summer in a simple spiced compote set off with a drizzle of balsamic. Serve this on rice pudding, panna cotta or plain yogurt.
3 cups (435 g) blackberries
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1⁄2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Combine all the ingredients from the berries through the zest in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries release their liquid. Simmer 1 to 3 minutes to reduce a little, then crush with a potato masher, leaving half of berries intact. Add the vinegar, and remove from the heat. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature. Refrigerated, the compote will keep for 1 week.
This excerpt is adapted from Sara Bir's book The Fruit Forager's Companion: Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond (Chelsea Green, 2018) and is printed with permission from the publisher.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
After decades on the political periphery, the climate movement is entering the mainstream in 2020, with young leaders at the fore. The Sunrise Movement now includes more than 400 local groups educating and advocating for political action on climate change. Countless students around the world have clearly communicated what's at stake for their futures, notably Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who just finished her yearlong school strike for climate. Youth activists have been praised for their flexible, big-picture thinking and ability to harness social media to deliver political wins, as Sunrise recently did for U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's primary campaign. They necessarily challenge the status quo.
A Convergence of Issues<p>The unequal impacts of a changing climate have become extremely clear in 2020, so equity has come to the fore of climate conversations in every corner of the country. A global deadly pandemic continues to rage out of control in the U.S., heat waves are setting new temperature records, wildfires are scorching American Western states, and the hurricane season has already made it to the end of the alphabet for naming storms. In all cases, low-income, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are bearing a disproportionate amount of the impacts.</p><p>"Today, the scab is off, the ugly reality of injustice is hitting us up close and personal, made more realistic by this COVID pandemic," Bullard says.</p><p>This year the decidedly youthful focus on intersectionality is a big part of what defines the transformation of the climate movement. Climate is not just an environmental issue, according to youth activists. It's also a racial justice issue, an economic issue, and an access-to-health care issue.</p><p>"Environmental justice is really seeing the intersection of these issues," says Alex Rodriguez, a community organizer with the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, which aims to make environmental issues a priority for the state's elected leaders. The group is now focusing their efforts on the coming election and recently succeeded in persuading the state to allow absentee voting in November. "We want people to be safe when casting their vote," says Rodriguez, 26, whose fellow grassroots committee members range from age 16 to 60.</p><p>Rodriguez, who also serves on the equity and environmental justice working group for the Governor's Council on Climate Change, says, "We see our programmatic work as a way to help lawmakers see what they can do to improve the dignity of those suffering from environmental racism, systematic racism, and economic oppression."</p><p>Seeing the overlap and bringing these issues together is a strength that Bullard says was missing from the civil rights organizing he was involved with in the 1960s. He says 2020 is unique in many ways.</p><p>"The number of marchers is unprecedented, from different economic, ethnic, and racial groups—an awakening unlike any that I've seen on this Earth in over 70 years," Bullard says. "Today, the different movements are converging, and I think that convergence makes for greater potential for success."</p>
Young and Old<p>But young people are one essential demographic among many when it comes to climate action. With all that's on the line for climate in the coming elections, up and down the ballot, collaboration becomes key. Bullard says previous generations of climate activists can now play the critical role of mentoring, assisting, and supporting. Standing with, not in front of, youth.</p><p>"Youth are leading us and taking on frontline activity," says Jayce Chiblow, the community engagement lead for Indigenous Climate Action, a Canadian organization that works for Indigenous-led climate justice solutions. But in doing so, she says many young Indigenous activists are experiencing the trauma of violence, getting arrested, and being taken away from their land. "All of our older people are supporting those youth: Elders, mentors, people trained in nonviolent action," Chiblow says. "The youth aren't alone."</p><p>That support can go a long way. "There's a lot of anger and a lot of fear, and that's understandable," says Wazer of Sunrise Connecticut. "I definitely feel those things, too, just considering the ways that our future has been threatened and kind of trashed by older generations."</p><p>Under the Trump administration, the number of environmental rollbacks alone can be disheartening, not to mention new <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/video/arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/" target="_blank">drilling permits in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge going up for auction</a>.</p><p>Wazer is frank about the risks of burnout, depression, and anxiety from the stress of it all, but draws inspiration from the example of the late U.S. representative and lifelong civil rights activist John Lewis. "That forgiveness and that ability to keep fighting and stay motivated … I think that that is something really powerful to learn from older generations."</p><p>An intergenerational approach can leverage the individual strengths of youth and older people in all their diversity.</p><p>"The elders hold our stories," says Chiblow, who is Anishinaabe from Garden River First Nation, Ontario. Those stories include lived experiences, culture, history, and generations of adapting to changes in climate. Such collective experience continues to inform Indigenous knowledge and connections to the land, as well as how people manage and govern themselves in relation to it. This knowledge is passed on through relationship-building and storytelling.</p><p>"Every time you hear that story, you're at a different point in your life, and you'll pick up something else … something new," Chiblow says.</p><p>Changes in perspectives that come with time and experience are among the reasons why intergenerational learning and coalitions are critical to the climate movement. To combine that living and learning is to expand the reach and meaning of the message exponentially. As part of her research for her master's degree, Chiblow brought together youth, community leaders, and knowledge keepers in her community to workshop climate action. "Those relationships are vital to keep that movement going," Chiblow says.</p>
The Unique Value Proposition of Elders<p>Older activists bring unique strengths to the table, according to gerontologist Mick Smyer, who designs strategies to move people from anxiety to action on climate. He calls himself "the aging whisperer to climate groups" and "the climate whisperer to aging groups." He is quick to point out that the learning can go in both directions.</p><p>"I think older adults are untapped resources," Smyer says. "Older adults bring several resources, one of which is their circles of influence. Just by virtue of having lived longer, older adults are going to have denser and richer networks," Smyer says. "The second is, when it comes to voting and civic engagement, older adults, as an age group, outperform all other age groups."</p><p>He uses the 2016 presidential election to illustrate his point: "The older age groups, 70% of them voted. Nobody [else] came close." He is cautious about making sweeping statements about older people broadly, but he says that ageism is alive and well. And that can deter the kind of collaboration that would beget necessary progress on climate action.</p><p>As the twin global patterns of an aging population and a changing climate continue arm in arm, Smyer says a good place for starting this work is within one's family.</p><p>"We each have that power to use in our circles of influence, particularly in our families, and we don't realize it," Smyer says. Whether it's via Zoom or FaceTime or a phone call or a chat in the living room, Smyer says, family members have a superpower: They will listen to each other, and they'll at least start the conversation.</p><p> "Intergenerational collaboration around climate issues, particularly in this election season, starts at home, and then goes to the polling booth," he says.</p>
Speaking the Same Language<p>As an individual's network of family, friends, and connections becomes wider and more diverse, the more work will need to be done to have them all working toward the same goals. That is equally true for the climate movement at large.</p><p>In bridging the gaps among baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials, Bullard says, "Each generation will have some idiosyncrasy and uniqueness about it that another generation will not understand or comprehend."</p><p>If everybody in a group or institution is similar, then there's no need to explain a lot, Bullard says. There's usually a fair amount of shared knowledge and values. But the more diverse that group gets, in age, race, gender, or culture, he says, the greater the potential for making mistakes, stepping on people's culture, and causing pain. But the potential for learning also increases exponentially.</p><p>Chiblow says successful collaboration comes down to being able to speak in shared concepts. The term "justice," for example, is an English word that's hard to translate into the Anishinaabe language. Chiblow says that because her community sees itself as belonging to the land, and being part of the land, the Anishinaabe worldview, and therefore their understanding of justice, is necessarily more holistic than the mainstream.</p><p>"Indigenous people have been feeling [the effects of climate change] for so long," Chiblow says. Today, as wildfires rage across the West, the mantra of "I can't breathe" is being driven home on a grand scale. For better and worse, climate justice is finally a front-page story.</p><p>"It's affecting the broader society," Chiblow says. "We're finally at the turning point where we could start to make real change because … people are really starting to feel that urgency."</p><p>The urgency will be tantamount in the coming election. A lot is at stake, says Chiblow: "Incentives, funding, all-around agreement, and also the way we're able to manage our lands and ourselves as people."</p><p>Bullard, too, is insistent on urgency. "This election is one of the most important elections of a generation, because there's so many things at stake," he says. "We can't wait another 40 years on climate. We don't have that much time. We don't have 40 years to get justice."</p><p>Issues of climate justice will be on the ballot in state and local elections this fall, such as Nevada's proposed renewable energy standards and Louisiana's proposed disaster funding. And the topic has finally made it onto the national stage. Joe Biden called Trump a "climate arsonist" for not acting on or even admitting that the wildfires in California are clearly climate-related. The frequency and intensity of such disasters is indisputable.</p><p>"Hurricanes don't swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don't skip towns that voted a certain way," Biden <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-address-west-coast-fires-confront-growing-threat/story?id=73000218" target="_blank">said in a speech on Sept. 14</a>. "The impacts of climate change don't pick and choose. That's because it's not a partisan phenomenon."</p><p>In many ways, the results of the upcoming elections will reflect the ways youth activists and older activists are able come to a common understanding of what climate justice means and what they want the future world to look like. </p><p>"There's a lot of knowledge built up in experience, and there's a lot of energy that's stored in young people," Bullard says. "When you put those two together, you have … an excellent recipe for potential success."</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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