One of my fond memories as a child was picking blackberries on our Gravette farm. And one of my best memories as a parent was picking blackberries with my children.
That brings me to Dr. John Clark, a professor at the University of Arkansas who has employed all sorts of science-based technology in grape orchards and blackberry patches as he works to improve and expand varieties at the fruit research station in Clarksville.
In the world of fruit production, Dr. Clark is a celebrity. He was in Charlottesville, Virginia, this week to spread the news about Arkansas’s two new varieties of wine grapes, which he has named Enchantment and Opportunity. The last variety he named in honor of the Natural State because our motto used to be “Arkansas – Land of Opportunity.”
Dr. Clark grew up milking cows on his family’s farm in Mississippi.
He likes to tell people that one of his goals as a child “was to not milk cows for a living.”
He says: “I made it, although not everyone would think that working in a briar patch is progress.”
The Cotton Candy grape came from the Clarksville station and is a best seller globally. Dr. Clark said that the Cotton Candy grape is “making a big ol’ buzz all over the world.”
Clark and his colleagues have patented more than 50 varieties of fruit, but blackberries are the most important crop. Dr. Clark notes that the team is “trying to make blackberries taste better, look pretty, get the thorns off, make them firm, and fight disease.”
The station also has bred a variety that produce berries twice a year.
He said, “That’s probably about the biggest thing to happen in blackberry breeding.”
One aspect of the program that I really appreciate is that fruit station’s success helps to pay for itself. Dr. Clark said his department has a “broad and thorough intellectual property program. This allows people to buy plants, and they pay royalties on them. This brings support in from other states and countries. They pay to grow them. It’s nothing but positive.”
Dr. Clark spent most of June in the blackberry patch, picking through the forty acres of plants, looking for the traits they have attempted to breed into the canes. His investigation, of course, includes frequent sampling to ensure the berries taste up to his standard.
Although Dr. Clark was born a Mississippian, he has lived more than half of his 60 years in Arkansas peach and nectarine orchards, and blueberry and blackberry patches.
And so what Dr. Clark does with fruit research is great for those of us who love berries, but it is also a boost to our economy, and he supports our small-farm operations.
Thank you, Dr. Clark.