| John Bragg
of Oxford Foods shows off one of his blueberry fields.
'We, of course, say that the wild ones are more flavourful,"
John Bragg says as we take a tour of the sea of blue behind his house,
"and wild blueberries grow on the ground, not on bushes."
As the largest producer of wild blueberries in Canada -- "no, wait,
in the world," he corrects me -- the founder of Oxford Foods and
Eastlink Communications says, "blueberries are my passion."
It all started when he was a teenager. "My Dad was in the lumber
business in Nova Scotia," Mr. Bragg tells me. "He bought abandoned
farms and I would pick blueberries there. By the time I was 15, I had
my own commercial business."
He adds that, after a few years, he went from producing two tons of blueberries
to his current production of 40,000 tons. In Nova Scotia and Maine, Oxford
Foods owns and farms more than 14,000 acres of wild blueberries.
"You have to admit, that's a heck of a lot of blueberries,"
he says, pointing out that he sells to Japan, Germany, France, Italy,
England and the United States, as well as Canada.
"My biggest marketing challenge was trying to sell blueberries to
the Japanese in the '70s. They didn't know what a blueberry was,"
he laughs, adding, "Now that's a salesman's challenge."
As we sit in his factory in Oxford, N.S., he urges me to taste the contents
of a jar with Japanese lettering (obviously he made his sale), "Blue
Flag Blueberry jam -- it's now the standard in Japan, very close in popularity
to strawberry and, at times, surpassing it."
This man loves blueberries and everything about them. He enthusiastically
points out their health benefits (vision health and cancer prevention)
and tells me excitedly that scientists at Tuft's University in Boston
have found "blueberries may improve motor skills and actually reverse
the short-term memory loss that comes with ageing."
Mr. Bragg says that when he started in the blueberry business, "money
was not the motivator; it was the feeling of accomplishing something.
There's a certain satisfaction you get from growing a crop that you don't
get in other businesses."
He would know; he also operates Eastlink, a cable company that offers
telephone service in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.
At this stage in his life, he says, his greatest satisfaction is in creating
jobs in Nova Scotia.
"In Toronto, people have to drive hours to get what we have in our
own backyard: fresh air, lakes, forests, beaches," he says.
Mr. Bragg adds he doesn't think the Maritimes or the people here get their
just desserts. "When people think of the Maritimes, they think of
unemployment, poverty and freeloaders," he says. "I don't like
that image. I think the truth is that we have a terrific workforce and
an entrepreneurial spirit."
But didn't he forget one obvious trait of Easterners? Down-home hospitality.
For example, during a tour of his beautiful home, Mr. Bragg points out
the guest bedroom, "where you and your kids can stay when you come
for the weekend," he says. Later, he shows me a photo of his place
in Kauai, Hawaii. "You're most welcome to stay there," he tells
me, "when it's empty" (which, apparently, is most of the year).
It dawns on me that only an East Coaster would make that kind of offer
to a complete stranger; and as a Nova Scotian myself, I can attest to
the fact that only an East Coaster would take him up on such an offer.