Axel Hvidberg isn’t surprised to hear people talking about the haskap berry as the latest and greatest super food: in fact, he may have had something to do with it.
Seated on a plastic bucket among roughly two acres of haskap plants, all ripe for the picking, there’s no hesitation to Hvidberg as he enthusiastically extols the merits of the berry.
“Haskap berries, three times the antioxidants of the blueberry, a flavour profile very similar to blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, maybe throw some huckleberry into it… and a berry with no seeds,” said Hvidberg. “Cold hearty to -47 C, frost tolerant to -8 C, and a week to two weeks ahead of strawberries – so can you think of a better fruit?”
On the east end of Salmon Arm, just off Highway 97B, is High Mountain Farm, where Alex and Doris Hvidberg run their modest but successful agricultural operation.
The two bought the 13-acre property in 2010 and, after discovering that growing hay wasn’t for them, they considered their options. The Hvidbergs decided to try growing thornless blackberries, and visited Coastal Black Winery on Vancouver Island where owner Abel O’Brennan offered them blackberry cuttings. During this visit, O’Brennan noted that sometimes he loses his blackberry plants to a late or early frost.
“Salmon Arm gets kind of cold – have you ever heard of haskap?” recalls a Axel, who hadn’t. “We came home and two weeks later we had our first order of haskap berries and that was Indigo Yum and… Berry Blue. We put it in and haven’t looked back.”
B.C.’s haskap berries have come a long way since then. Axel and Doris are founding members of the B.C. Haskap Association, now approximately 44 members and 400 acres strong. Locally, the Hvidberg’s haskaps have been put to a variety of uses, from High Mountain Farm’s own haskap berry compote, as well as a liqueur jam made from berries initially used by Vernon-based Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery for a haskap liqueur. The Hvidberg’s haskaps are also being used in a cider produced by Calgary-based Uncommon Cider.
In Salmon Arm, the Shuswap Pie Company is making haskap and blueberry pies, while the Barley Station Brew Pub has used the berries in their Canada Day Cask, as well as in their haskap beef burger.
“The sky’s the limit, we don’t know where it’s going to go,” exclaimed Axel.
That said, the Hvidberg’s have a good idea of where they want to take their relationship with the haskap berry.
“My background is in sales, so we are going try to become a haskap berry broker…,” explained Axel. “So what Doris and I would like to do now is get into the marketing and brokering of berries that are here, develop new product lines, and that’s our expansion goal. We’re putting in a new shop here with big walk-in freezers and freeze-drier capability, and start developing products here on the farm and then buy other people’s berries and, as we develop recipes here at the farm, we will find co-packers and have them manufacture product under our brand or whichever brand we choose to market under.”
In the meantime, the Hvidbergs are preparing another acre on their property for growing haskaps. Axel says the success they’ve had so far has allowed them to hire about a half-dozen people to work the farm. Future growth may require more land.
“We may not have enough room for a production facility here,” said Axel. “We’re going to start small and see where it goes. There’s been lots of talk in Salmon Arm about food security and food action – there’s still a lot of talk, and we’re doing it the other way; we don’t talk a lot about it, we just go out and do it.”
For more information about haskap berries and High Mountain Farm, visit www.haskapbc.com.