Move over saskatoons, there's a new prairie berry that's making a purple-coloured splash with farmers and consumers. Have you heard of the haskap? If not, one Alberta farmer wants to give you a tour, a taste and ultimately, an education on this super nutritious, slightly sour, bulbous berry--and how he's caring for the land where it grows.
Andrew Rosychuk is a city slicker turned farmer, a passionate advocate of regenerative farming, which seeks to better the land year after year. On his 76 acres in Sturgeon County, the Edmonton native is growing 27 acres of six varieties of haskaps, an easy to grow, easy to pick fruit that has become the darling of many in the food industry for its versatility in sweet and savoury recipes, cocktails and smoothies. Along with selling to organic stores, Rosychuk brings the goods, in frozen berry and juice form, to area farmers' markets, (Old Strathcona, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, 124 St.) so more consumers can catch up on the berry buzz.
"I've been at this for seven years now, and I'm not saying I'm successful--it's a slow burn. But more than ever, people want to connect with their food; to belong," said Rosychuk, who grew up loving plants but took a detour into the trades before coming back to the burgeoning organic business that is a bustling U-Pick (rosyfarms.ca) during peak season, but also a host site for several research projects in regenerative farming. "Saskatchewan was the first adopter of this tough-as-nails berry, but it's gaining in popularity, especially here, in B.C., Nova Scotia."
Alongside the rows of haskap bushes, Rosychuk allows nature to do its thing: dandelion weeds and other native species pop up here; the odd bird makes a nest there. And on the paths leading up to the orchard, clover, fescue and grasses are allowed to grow, and ground cover keeps the earth from scorching under the summer sun. Rosychuk says unlike some other berries, haskaps don't need spraying--he remains a rare organic haskap grower in the province, working to create a multifaceted ecosystem--a unique operation and a beautiful place to grow this trendy 'super food'.
"Regenerative farming works without plowing, making use of grazing animals and bacteria in the soil to help create stronger plant roots and highly-productive soil," said Rosychuk, who studied horticulture in Olds. He shares his wisdom with visitors, walking among the haskaps and pointing out where picking is best, which variety is slightly sweeter, less tannic etc. Amidst the plants, a few large wooden hexagons stand tall. "In nature, the symbol is like the bee hive, where hexagons hold the maximum amount of honey. For our farm, it symbolizes making the soil as fruitful as possible. To learn more, we offer farm tours during the UPick season (mid to late July)."
Haskaps, also known as honeyberries, contain up to three times more antioxidants than the average berry.
Haskaps originated in Russia and Japan, but are now cultivated here, too. Along with trials for many more varieties, Rosy Farms grows six popular types: the early harvest, flavourful Indigo Gem; bright, tart Tundra; the low-acid, complex and Rosy Farm favourite Aurora; a U-Pick favourite 'Beast'; bumpy and 'best flavour' winner from USask--Beauty; and zingy, flavourful and large Blizzard.
Though super hardy (surviving up to -50 Celcius!), Haskaps lose their verve quickly after picking, so use or freeze promptly. Rosy Farms sells whole fruit frozen at markets, or in juice form. The sky's the limit for using this excellent source of vitamin C and fibre: pies, jams, crumbles, salads, violet-hued cocktails--you name it!
Basics: 3/4 c. frozen haskaps
1/2 banana, frozen or fresh
1/2 cup liquid (milk, juice)
1/2 apple--cored, not peeled
1/2 cup spinach - fresh or frozen
2 tbsp hemp hearts
Optional ingredients: flax seed, yogurt, kale, scoop of protein powder, honey, avocado, mint leaves.
Blend for a minute and enjoy!
Recipe: Glenda Perry/Rosyfarms.com