The wild side: Harvesting the backyard’s bounty

Marquette’s Blueberry Festival is fast approaching, and this year it will take on new significance for me.

I recently discovered the plethora of wild blueberries growing near the home my husband and I purchased in Chocolay Township in the winter of last year. They are everywhere. In the side yard, in our backyard, all throughout the wood area behind our house.

It’s no wonder we have our own festival dedicated to the blueberry.

The Blueberry Festival, the Copper County Strawberry Festival, a farmers market in every town, it seems those of us in the Upper Peninsula understand good food when we see it. And in particular, we understand that food, in its best and tastiest form, comes straight from the ground.

Nothing will ever taste better than a blueberry picked about two seconds ago. Well, maybe a strawberry picked about two seconds ago, but that’s debatable.

In fact, that’s a debate I would love have.

My husband and I were very excited when we closed on our little house in Chocolay. It has a large yard (something we both gave top priority to in our house hunt) but it wasn’t until the snow melted that we learned how awesome our backyard truly is.

It’s absolutely overrun with wild blueberries.

The side portion of our yard has wild blueberries, something I was thrilled about when I first noticed them, and thought was unique to our property.

I had no idea how many blueberries were waiting in our backyard, or the woods behind our house. It turns out we live in the blueberry capital of the county. At least, that’s how it appears. A walk with our dog will reveal that almost everyone our street has their own little wild blueberry patch.

A walk behind our home will take you through a wooded area for a while, then opens to an expanse of sand dunes before becoming forested again. The North Country Trail runs behind where we live, which is a nice thing to have on a warm summer day.

A railroad grade runs through the area behind our house as well and we soon learned that back when trains were still running there, people used to hop onboard for a trip out to Chocolay, where blueberries abound. They’d spend the day picking berries before jumping the train back home. It sounds romantic, like something straight out of “Huckleberry Finn.”

This week, the first of the blueberries began to ripen in our backyard. Just the other day, my husband picked plenty for an afternoon snack. I can’t wait for them to explode all over. I could literally fill potato sacks with the number of blueberries growing wild in the woods.

And the previous owners helped show us even more wild culinary wonders when they stopped by the house last week. We apparently have a hazelnut tree on our property, as well as a few sugarplum trees. Obviously, I knew the trees were there, but I had never really looked at them, never bothered to find out what they were.

We were also informed that this time of year, it’s not strange to see people hunched over, grabbing at the ground as they slowly approach our house.

Don’t worry, the told us, it’s just folks out picking blueberries.

The end of this month will be a sweet one indeed, with berries providing something for dessert and our small garden offering a daily lunch, with lettuce, green peppers, green and yellow beans, tomatoes and all manner of herbs waiting to be picked.

I can’t wait to spend the rest of my summer sampling all of these wonderful foods.

There’s a reason we in the U.P. dedicate so much of our time to celebrating them – they are food in its finest form.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is