Haskap berries: northern Alberta’s new superfood
Growing new markets for Canada’s fruit industry
When you bite into a haskap berry and break through the purple-blue skin, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. The tangy tartness cuts through the sweet juice to overwhelm your tastebuds, and before you know it you’re devouring handful after handful.
Andrew Rosychuk describes haskap berries as “three-quarters blueberry, one-quarter raspberry, with undertones of black currant and elderberry.”
But haskap’s are better, because there’s three times the antioxidants and five times the anti-inflammatories than in a blueberry, he says.
The global blueberry market is projected to reach $4.5 billion U.S. by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 6.7% according to Mordor Intelligence LLP. That growth is largely driven by increased demand in Asia and Europe where the desire for fresh and healthy berries is increasing faster than production.
Even with a small initial market share, the potential for haskap berries is substantial.
A common goal
Rosychuk owns Rosy Farms, a haskap orchard in Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s Sturgeon County. It’s an area with rich farmland, predictable weather, and easy access to global food supply chains.
Rosychuk’s passion for horticulture began as a child, scribbling down notes as he watched Canadian Gardener. That curiosity stuck with him and in 2005 he began planting on his aunt and uncle’s farm just outside Willingdon, Alberta.
“I planted sour cherries, currants and haskaps as an experiment. I found out that the bugs love the currents, the cherries got eaten by the deer, and I fell in love with the haskaps,” Rosychuk says.
Rosychuk, who’s spent over ten years working in the trades, bought the 76 acres of land that make up Rosy Farms in 2015. Now he has 26,000 haskap bushes growing there.
The Alberta-based entrepreneur knew that in order to make the haskap berry industry successful in Canada, farmers would have to work together towards one common goal.
So he founded the Haskap Alberta Association and also teamed up with 13 other producers to help create North 49 Fruit Corporation, a producer-owned marketing and sales company.
“North 49 is a one of a kind business because it is 100% farmer owned and farmer driven,” says Rosychuk.
All of the shareholders are aligned, so they have the same caliber of berries, food safety processes and quality assurance processes.
The Haskap Alberta Association also contributes towards building that unified voice for haskaps, which Rosychuk says is important to educate new growers and gain respect from the government.
Looking forward, Rosychuk wants to transform the fruit industry in Canada and build long-term relationships around the world for haskap farming stability.
“We’ve never had any industry like this in the prairies before, it’s always been annual agriculture. This is an opportunity to do something different and it is extremely viable,” he says.
“It’s a blank slate, but it’s not just a blank slate where everything has to start from scratch — it’s a better blueberry.”
Rosychuk says the next step for the industry is to establish the distribution and processing systems that are needed to support haskap production in Alberta.
Luckily, the Edmonton region has expertise and a competitive advantage in shipping fresh fruits to Asia.
A large percentage of Western Canada and northwestern U.S. cherries ship to Asia through the Edmonton International Airport. That’s due to the combination of quick flying times to Asia, regular food-focused cargo routes, and expertise in handling fresh fruits, produce, meats, and other temperature and time sensitive products.
Rosychuk plans to build a processing facility at Rosy Farms this fall which will be scalable.
That’s his focus as a 2020 Nuffield Scholar, an award that recognizes agricultural leaders around the world.
Rosychuk will be exploring the “value in developing on-farm, medium scale processing units giving the primary producer an advantage in capitalizing a value added ingredient or product,” according to the Nuffield Canada website.
In addition to building the new facility, Rosychuk expects to process enough haskap berries in 2020 to break-even, five years after beginning his operation at Rosy Farms.
“When it comes to unique scalability, it’s the power of the haskap and it’s 100% local,” Rosychuk says.
Over the winter, haskaps can endure up to minus 50 degrees celsius. The bushes will flower in May, facing downwards to prevent water from collecting and freezing during the chilly spring nights.
By July, they’ll be ready to be harvested.
Until then, Rosychuk will continue to build up the industry by sharing the story of the resilient haskap berry, the north’s newest superfood.