Superfruits of their labours: Farmers grow market for new berry in absence of government support
Troy Noonan was sitting by himself at a table for four. He was waiting for two people he’d never met. Noonan grows haskap berries, and I would soon learn that the farmers he was waiting for grew the superfruit as well.
The Haskap Berry Growers Association of Ontario was moments from holding its first annual general meeting, where it would elect its first board of directors and begin galvanizing its vision of education, support and the development of a strong domestic market for their product.
It’s an origin story. And it’s one consumers should know about. This is how new products enter the market and how new economies and markets are created.
The haskap not-for-profit started with five interested growers in the spring of 2018. And on Feb. 21, 2019, that initial fellowship of like-minded and motivated farmers was formalized.
I met Noonan at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Niagara Falls. I was attending as a speaker, where the first person I met was a biologist from Quebec — a biologist who took every opportunity to champion the positive influence farmer-led, unbiased groups have on agriculture and agricultural research. The next day I’d meet Noonan.
“It’s a classic Canadian story,” said newly elected board member and media director Thomas MacIntosh, of the humble haskap berry’s emergence.
“It loves the north. It loves wet, harsh conditions, it thrives in cold conditions.”
Agriculture in Canada is steered by farmer-driven groups like these, feeding independent research, agronomy and market development into a void otherwise filled by agricultural-input companies or, worse yet, not filled at all.
Over the past 15 or so years, when many provincial agricultural departments began cutting their extensions services and the federal government began distancing itself from offering direct-to-producer supports, farmers no longer had the benefit of public agronomy support. Private companies have enthusiastically taken up this mantle, many of them hiring their own agronomists to offer support for their farmer clients.
Federal and provincial agricultural ministries now largely rely on farmer-led groups to figure out for themselves how to grow quality food and build strong markets.
Groups such as the Haskap Berry Growers Association of Ontario are pivotal in bringing new products to market. Most products we consider common or uniquely Canadian have a similar grassroots story that starts with a few bold farmers banding together to face and overcome the known challenges of growing a new product while building a reserve of fiscal and agronomic strength to tackle the unforeseen.
It’s a classic Canadian story. It loves the north. It loves wet, harsh conditions, it thrives in cold conditionsboard member Thomas MacIntosh
The berry’s Canadian roots go back to the late ’50s, where it was reportedly first found growing wild in Alberta and later in every province except B.C. The fruit was, at the time of its discovery, too bitter to consider edible. But that is no longer the case.
The University of Saskatchewan’s Dr. Bob Bors has been instrumental in developing haskap berry varieties suitable for Canada’s diverse growing regions. Bors is also credited for the berry’s unique flavour profile, which MacIntosh describes as a blend of blueberry, raspberry and blackberry.
The berry, which is also referred to as blue honeysuckle, follows roughly the same pollination schedule as strawberries and they are in season at a similar time.
It’s an emerging fruit for Canada that is supported by USask’s Fruit Program, provincial associations across the country and the national body Haskap Canada.
MacIntosh, fittingly, is a self-proclaimed apple guy. He works with apple farmers across Ontario uniting them through tools such as Whatsapp and social media. He intends to do the same for growers using #haskapontario and starting various Haskap Ontario accounts.
To date, the Ontario association is supported by roughly 30 haskap growers.
Published at Mon, 25 Feb 2019 13:23:06 +0000