Dani Miller, left, and Bill Miller at their blueberry farm on 66th Street in Springfield.

Beautiful blueberries ready to be picked at Adkins Blueberry Farm.

They’re round. They’re sweet. They’re good for your health and for the local economy.

With the blueberry season in full swing, Oregon nearly leads the pack of production harvest nationwide.

Next to Washington, Oregon is second in the nation for blueberry production, with a harvest potential of 170 million pounds and an estimated annual economic impact of over $375 million, according to the Oregon Blueberry Commission.

From statewide operations shipping crops worldwide to small family farms operating u-picks and fundraising festivals, each blueberry harvest in the Willamette Valley is treated as anything but a drop in the bucket.

Take farmers Dani and William “Bill” Miller, owners of Memory Lane Berries, located on 66th Street in Springfield. In 2017, the couple bought the property after they fell in love with the house – a charming cottage style with a wrap-around porch and large front yard, seen to some as a country-living dream. After buying the house, their realtor asked them what they were going to do with the blueberries.

“What blueberries?” they asked. To their surprise, they now owned a blueberry farm and it was two weeks before the season started. They quickly got their business license and opened the farm in time.

This excited Dani to go back to her roots.

“All my life I’ve wanted to be a farmer myself. I grew up on a farm,” Dani said, noting that her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all lived on a filbert orchard.

Memory Lane is a relatively small blueberry farm with about an acre of blueberries for u-pick. They mostly prune varieties for hand-picking, which produces big berries that are great for snacking, and also grow smaller berries that bakers prefer, Dani said.

“We want to be that neighborhood farm where people … can just come. We also sell more than blueberries, so they can stop by here on their way home, instead of going all the way to the farmers market,” Dani said.

Dani’s favorite part is seeing families with their children come through.

“Kids love blueberries. We get a parade of little ‘bucket heads’ going through here with their cute little safari hats,” Dani said, adding that children are thrilled by seeing where their food comes from and plucking the berries right off the bush.

At the base of Mt. Pisgah, a similar sense of pride is felt by husband and wife duo Bryce and Erron Mertz, who operate Adkins Blueberry Farm. The farm on Gossler Road was first planted in 1983 by Bryce’s grandfather. Since then, it has been passed down from generation to generation.

Like the Millers, the Mertz’s favorite part of owning their farm is seeing families come through every year.

“We prepare for this all year round. It's very rewarding when families come out to enjoy it,” Bryce said.

But what’s hard work without play - and payback to the community? Adkins Blueberry Farm hosted its annual blueberry festival on July 16. Local bands played all day long while local businesses, food trucks and craft vendors set up booths for visitors to browse. This year the festival raised $11,500 to CASA of Oregon (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that provides advocates for children experiencing neglect and abuse. This organization is dear to the Mertz’s hearts, Bryce said, given that they adopted their three kids – two from the foster care system.

Beyond giving a boost to the economy, health benefits are boosted, too.

“Blueberries are high in Vitamin K and Vitamin C. …They’re high in fiber, low in sugar, great for diabetics. They are a fruit that even people on the Keto diet can eat,” Dani said.

Blueberries are associated with a positive impact on cardiovascular, cognitive and ocular health. In an article published by The American Society for Nutrition, it associates regular, moderate intake of blueberries with improvement on weight management and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Trevor Cleveland, optometrist at Complete Vision Center in Springfield, shared his take, making it clear that genetics is the primary factor of developing vision diseases; however, there are ways we can reduce our risk including our diet.

Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins, or taking supplements can decrease your risk factor by 25% of developing some of these diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, macular degeneration being the leading cause of blindness. Both of these diseases are influenced by the health of the retina, Cleveland said.

The retina is located at the back of the eye and is responsible for collecting light and turning that light into an electrical signal to send to the brain via the optic nerve, Cleveland said. Because of all that activity, this tissue tends to wear out.

“That’s where a good diet and things like blueberries that are really rich in pigment and antioxidants are super important,” Cleveland said. “They are good for the pigment layer in the retina because they help facilitate that metabolism and recover when there's damage to tissue.”

In a study of 16,000 women, a greater intake of blueberries and strawberries was associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults. Cognitive benefits were also detected in school-age children in terms of long-term memory. In a study of diabetic patients, blueberry intake led to a decline in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, and an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

“Our cardiovascular system is known to be a very significant risk factor for macular degeneration and glaucoma,” Cleveland said. “Anything that is going to help effectively pump oxygen-rich blood to these small detail areas of your body is great.”

With blueberry season running through September, a visit to a local farm might be just the nutritional and activity boost the doctor calls for.

We can benefit in multiple ways with this treat. The process of preparing this can be relaxing and distract us from our day-to-day stress, we will feel the comfort in every bowl, and let's not forget how good we feel when we support our health with a healthy meal. This recipe pairs well with your favorite cup of tea. My favorite is Sweet Tangerine Positive Energy tea from Eugene's own Yogi Tea. Enjoy!

Blueberry Breakfast Bake Ingredients: ○ 1.25 cups uncooked organic steel-cut oats ○ 1 13 oz. can of full fat coconut milk ○ 5 Free-Range or Pasture-raised eggs ○ ½ cup maple syrup, divided ○ 1 tsp. ground coriander* ○ 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground ginger* ○ ½ tsp. ground nutmeg* * or substitute 2 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice mix ○ 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. vanilla extract ○ 10 oz. butternut squash (frozen ok) ○ 8 oz. blueberries (frozen ok) ○ 1/3 cup organic golden or Thompson raisins* * or substitute 1/2 cup dried cranberries ○ 1/3 cup slivered almonds or pecan pieces (or 1/2 cup chopped walnuts) ○ Coconut oil to grease baking dish

Directions: ○ Preheat the oven to 350° F ○ Lightly grease a 7-by-11-inch baking dish (an 8-by-8 works too). ○ Put the can of coconut milk in a blender and mix until well blended. If you do not have a blender you can mix the coconut milk by hand in a mixing bowl with a whisk. ○ In a mixing bowl, whisk together one egg, ¼ cup maple syrup, and ¼ cup coconut milk. ○ In another mixing bowl, mix the uncooked steel-cut oats with the coriander, ginger, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. ○ Add the egg mixture to the steel-cut oat mixture and combine thoroughly. ○ Add the butternut squash and mix thoroughly. ○ Spread the combined mixture evenly in the greased baking dish. ○ Sprinkle the frozen blueberries and raisins on top. ○ In another mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining 4 eggs, ¼ cup maple syrup, the rest of the coconut milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and the nutmeg. ○ Pour the egg mixture over the top of the fruit. Sprinkle nuts of choice on top (optional). ○ Bake for 1 hour, or until the bake is mostly set with only a small amount of liquid left. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Enjoy!