Anchorage company seeks permits to harvest blueberries

Firm's product, AuroraBlue, is being touted as antidote to high cholesterol, high blood pressure

Posted: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

KENAI - An Anchorage company has applied for land use permits on large swaths of state land to commercially harvest wild Alaska blueberries.

Denali Biotechnologies produces a health supplement called AuroraBlue. The product hit markets in December. Maureen McKenzie, chief executive officer and founder of the company, said the product is being marketed as an antidote to a variety of ailments, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

McKenzie said she did not know how many acres of land they applied for to berry pick except that it was "thousands and thousands and thousands of acres."

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources also did not immediately know the number of acres applied for. Kathy Johnson, natural resources specialist for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources public information center, said land use permits do not give the permit holder exclusive rights to pick berries on state land.

McKenzie said the company also has been working on contracts with private, Native and borough land owners around the state to gain permission to harvest berries on their land. She said hundreds of people may be working for the company this summer to gather berries.

McKenzie recently said the company hopes to harvest 150,000 pounds of blueberries this summer. By 2007, they hope to harvest more than a million pounds of berries to meet their customers' demands, she said.

"We don't want to run anybody over. We're just trying to figure out where to get those supplies," she said. "It shouldn't be a problem; it's just a matter of finding them."

She said the company would hire their own crews who would gather on permitted land.

Denali Biotechnologies is recruiting people who are willing to gather for them on other allowable land, such as private and Native land.

The company also will buy berries from people who gathered for their own personal use and want to sell some, she said.

Denali Biotechnologies plans to have buying stations set up around the state to purchase berries, she said.

This year, McKenzie said the company hopes to see ranching cooperatives started around the state, including the Kenai Peninsula, where landowners will transplant wild blueberry bushes to commercially grow the product. The company has had small test plots where they have tested ranching capabilities, she said.

In the future, through the help of a $1.65 million federal grant, they hope to have a facility to dry the berries somewhere in the state so they do not have to ship them Outside for drying.

"If we could get everything in Alaska and have the Made in Alaska symbol on it that would be truly wonderful," McKenzie said.

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