It is no secret that I have quite a fondness for farmers. I love purchasing directly from the people who labour so tirelessly to produce top-quality produce. Listening to them speak passionately about their work encourages me to be ever more respectful of what they’ve grown, wasting nothing and treating each element with care and thoughtfulness. It was therefore with great excitement that I embraced the opportunity a few weeks ago to visit and help out a brand-new agricultural venture in south-eastern Nova Scotia. South Shore Farms is the province’s newest participant in the growing Haskap industry.
You’re sure to be hearing more about Haskaps very soon, given the berry’s powerful nutritional profile and delicious taste. A member of the honeysuckle family, it is native to both Russia and Japan, where it’s been grown for generations. The royal blue, oval-shaped Haskaps – sometimes called Honeyberries – have three times the antioxidants of the blueberry and are packed with Vitamin C.
My host on planting day was South Shore Farms’ proud owner and serial entrepreneur David Eisnor. He works for Futurpreneur Canada (formerly the Canadian Youth Business Foundation), the only national non -profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39. “I first heard of the Haskap berry when a student presented the idea of planting Haskap at a pitch competition,” said David. “I was intrigued by the healthy aspects of the berry, along with the business opportunity. I started to do my research, knowing that I might finally get to realize my longstanding goal of owning a farm.”
He subsequently located the ideal property which features an off-grid, 150 year old farmhouse on 180 acres of land, including a combination of field, pasture, wetland, and wood lot. David’s farm now includes approximately 5000 plants, both 1 and 2 year old bushes. He’s planting five different Haskap varieties in total, including Berry Blue, Larisa, Ruth, Indigo Gem, and Aurora. “These varieties were recommended to me by LaHave Natural Farms (Haskapa), my supplier,” he explained. “Having a mix is important for cross-pollination; as well as some berries have slightly different flavours and shapes, so slightly different uses for commercial sale.”
Haskap bushes are extremely cold-tolerant, making them a hardy choice for Canadian farmers. David said he should have a very small yield of fruit next year, with a commercial yield, based on having some two year old plants, in two years and the start of a healthy and consistent yield in three years. “After 5 years, the plants are mature, and should produce berry for 20 years or more,” he added. He plans initially to sell his berries back to Lahave Natural Farms (Haskapa) and thereby start to generate a steady revenue stream. His plan is also to move towards creating Haskap products (jams, chutneys, and other products) under his own unique brand.
He was thrilled to have so many friends and supporters show up to help put bushes in the ground on a gorgeous late-summer day. “Crowd sourcing was an important part of the entire project for me,” enthused David. “From the start, I wanted to get family and friends involved, and it was fantastic to have fifty people to come and help out on planting day!”
David’s already looking to expand his farm. “If the popularity of Haskaps increases, I will add acres of bushes; if not, I will add other crops, maybe hops or grapes. But I definitely plan to build upon what I have started here and future goals include developing agri-tourism opportunities.”
I spoke with Liam Tayler of industry-leading Lahave Natural Farms, wondering why he is so quick to offer advice and assistance to other Haskap farmers. His answer was simple – by helping others, they can collectively grow the Haskap industry. “We believe that these are fantastic berries and can bring Nova Scotia and Ontario agriculture to new heights. We presently buy berries from many farmers; working closely with them means we can ensure they are growing fruit to our specifications,” says Liam. “We want to make Haskapa the forerunner of the haskap industry in Canada; premium quality products need premium quality berries.”
Lahave Natural Farms has helped over 100 growers, selling them plants and providing advice (and sometimes hands-on assistance) regarding cultivation and harvesting. Their influence, and the calibre of products they are already selling, is particularly impressive given the firm’s short history. The company was formed in 2010, planted its first Haskap bushes in 2011, and brought its first Haskapa-branded products to market in November of 2013.
“We’ve move quickly as we wanted to get other farmers excited enough about the potential to also put plants in the ground. By getting our delicious products to market quickly, we were able to demonstrate commercial viability, which incents others to plant.”
Liam and his team have been rewarded for their efforts. Their rich-tasting Haskap juice, with a concentrated flavour reminiscent of both blueberries and cranberries, won first prize in the Best New Juice category at Germany’s prestigious World Juice Awards last fall.
You can’t find Haskapa products on store shelves in the Ottawa-area yet (though you can order by phone or online), but Liam is hopeful they’ll break into the market here very soon. “We are limited by the volume of berries we can grow and purchase, so we have to be very careful not to oversell and leave people without stock. We’ve been focusing on the Maritimes till now but are carefully expanding into Ontario.” Demand is likely to build after Haskapa unveils its newest product – Haskap Maple Syrup – at the Gourmet Food and Wine showcase in Toronto next month. It’s a delicious addition to a line that includes juice, jams, chutneys, salsas and more.
I was fortunate to get my hands on a small supply of dried Haskap berries, condiments and concentrated Haskap juice. I look forward to creating some new recipes using these tasty ingredients – watch for future Haskap-themed posts in the months ahead!