Local residents and food enthusiasts Bob Kendell and Gary Smith proposed the introduction of the haskap berries into Grand Forks agricultural production at a recent city council meeting.
“The council approved for us to bring this fellow out who’s an expert in the production of haskap berries,” said Gary Smith, a crop manager with Bron and Sons Nursery. “Haskaps, also known as honeysuckles or honey berries, are just a different form of cultivar that produce larger types of berries.”
Around six years ago, seed stock of the fruit from Russia and Japan was brought over by Dr. Bob Bors from the University of Saskatchewan. With purple-tinged skin, haskap berries can be either cylindrical or circular in shape and resembles a mixture of blueberries and strawberries in taste.
Kendell, who introduced haskap berries to Smith, said, “Dr. Bors started cross-breeding the two varieties to take the best attributes of both and produce something that was more commercially viable.”
Smith added, “They can withstand up to -40 (degree) frost and their blooms can stand up to minus four or five. They are the first fruit to ripen in the season and there’s no market here, there’s no one doing it here.”
Haskap berries are bred the natural way and not genetically modified, Smith pointed out.
“They’re very thin skinned, so they blend well to being processed, so jams and wines. Somebody in Nova Scotia is even making vodka out of it. It’s something that is easy to work with and it’s a real opportunity,” stated Smith.
Mayor Brian Taylor thinks that the fruit shows some promise due to its traits, but is cautious when talking about production.
“It’s not going to be a solution to our problems in agriculture, but if it adds another variety to our communities production, then great,” he said.
Mass production of haskap berries is still relatively new, but Kendell hopes the community sees the potential of harvesting the fruit.
“We can become the centre of berry production in B.C.,” stated Kendell. “I think it has the potential to do a lot of good things because to my knowledge, it’s the only commercially harvestable berry.”
Smith agreed, “We have lots of land that’s not being utilized or being used at all and this may be an excellent opportunity for this region to do something different and productive, as opposed to growing hay.”
Kendell and Smith have arranged to bring Curtis Braaden, owner of Haskap Central Sales Ltd. in Saskatchewan, over for a meeting to discuss production with help with some funds provided by city council, on Oct. 15. Location and time to be decided.