Once a kitchen staple, the “black cap” raspberry fell out of favor, like other low-yield, less shelf-stable fruits. Now a unique farm run by Latino immigrants is reintroducing the berries to the local market. The 6-acre farm off River Road in Eugene grows “u-pick” organic strawberries that are tangy, fragrant and sweet. But what’s really exceptional is a new crop that’s just being picked.

In 30 rows at the back of the plot, clusters of thimble-like black cap raspberries are finally ripening on lush, green vines. They’re Oregon’s only certified organic black raspberries grown for the fresh market.

What’s also unusual is who runs this farm business: eight low-income families, mostly migrants from Mexico, who have day jobs as farm-workers and janitors. Their Small Farmers’ Project launched two years ago through the nonprofit Huerto de la Familia–The Family Garden. Heifer International got the project off the ground with a 3-year, $142,000 grant.

Carlos Sollo, who works full-time as a landscaper, came out to prune and weed the canes on a recent evening. His wife and twin 9-year-old sons joined him in the field.

Sollo: “It’s amazing to grow your own and harvest your own. It’s different than when you work for somebody else.”
What would his relatives back in Oaxaca say if they could see him now?

Sollo: “Oh, they will not believe me. They don’t believe that I have this I send pictures to them and they say, ‘Hey, that’s incredible.’ I think this the American Dream.”

Veteran berry grower Carl Berg is sharing his expertise with the farmers. And Tom Lively of the Eugene-based Organically Grown Company is  distributing the berries to regional restaurants and grocery stores,
possibly even chains as big as Whole Foods and Fred Meyer.

This inaugural harvest should fill 2,000 to 3,000 flats this summer.

It’s all a big experiment, Lively says, to see what the demand is and how the fragile berries hold up during transport.

Lively: “It’s like all berries: they’re very highly perishable. It is a seedier variety of raspberry, and it’s not as sweet. Typically, it was used in the past in jams and jellies, pies and tarts. I think it fell out of favor when a lot of people got out of home-canning.”

The dark purple berries also have health benefits. They’re higher in anti-oxidants than blueberries.

And chefs love their complex, almost herbal flavor. Adam’s Sustainable Table in downtown Eugene reserved one of the first flats. The restaurant’s menu now features salmon with a savory black cap glaze and for dessert, serves the berries fresh over vanilla ice cream.

The bartender is cooking them down into a syrup for a popular martini.

Sipping one, customer Kim Chapman said: “It is fantastic. It’s very smooth and slightly sweet. The flavor comes out on the backsides of your tongue.”

Back on the farm, Carlos Sollo is proud to provide the community with a healthy product.

Sollo: “People can prove this is organic because lots of ladybugs. If they come and see in between the strawberries or raspberries, they can find lots of ladybugs.”

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