P.E.I. U-picks attract curious customers with haskap berry
'I had one lady think I was Mrs. Haskap because she didn't know what a haskap was'
Two P.E.I. farms offered something new for U-pick this summer: a berry that some say is the next super fruit, called the haskap.
Lynn Townshend, along with her husband Peter and daughter Becky, started Rollo Bay Haskap 11 years ago, after hearing a researcher from the University of Saskatchewan speak about the berries.
Townshend said they originally hoped to harvest the haskap berries mechanically to keep production costs down, but haven't been able to find a harvester that works.
"We realized this year that we didn't want to waste the berries so we went to U-pick," Townshend said.
"We do have a few people picking and we do sell some boxes that are already picked but it puts the cost up high because they're like strawberries, they have to be hand-picked."
'They're so new'
Townshend said the response has been "amazing" since they opened in early July, with news of the U-pick spread by word of mouth and social media.
"But they're different than a crop like strawberries or raspberries because people know what those are," Townshend said.
"When people come to the haskap field they're curious, you really have to explain what a haskap berry is because it's a brand-new berry."
Townshend said some people are driving by the field and stop in because they are curious.
"I had one lady come in and think I was Mrs. Haskap because she didn't know what a haskap was, they're so new," Townshend said.
Townshend said the season for haskaps depends on the weather, but it is similar to strawberries.
The fields of Rollo Bay Haskap are also distinctive because of the rows covered in white netting, protecting the berries from what Townshend calls her arch-nemesis, the cedar waxwing.
The birds appeared the first time the fields had ripe berries.
"They came down after lunch and our field was covered in cedar waxwings and they ate and ate and would not fly away," Townshend said.
"So we put up netting on some of our favourite varieties and some of our favourite rows."
Townshend has a freezer full of haskaps, ready for the winter.
"In the future, maybe we'll develop a market and have a mechanical harvester and we can increase our yields. Who knows?" Townshend said.
"I'm enjoying them right now as they are."
Bea DeLong has brought her grandchildren twice to pick berries at Rollo Bay Haskap.
"I knew absolutely nothing, as we drove by and saw the sign we were wondering what they were," DeLong said.
"So we just thought out of curiosity to come in and just see what they were and pick a few and try them and yeah, they're very good."
Alex Bevan-Baker saw a post about Rollo Bay Haskap on social media.
"It's kind of that next superfood because it is so healthy for you," said Bevan-Baker, who works in the culinary industry.
"I think it's going to really get trendy soon and hopefully a lot of home cooks start using them too."
Planted in 2018
The Xiyuan Haskap Farm in Grandview, P.E.I., also opened one of its fields for U-pick this summer for the first time, but they were sold out the following day.
"Some people still think it's a blueberry," Ming-I Wang said.
"I have to tell them haskap is kind of new crop and can have more nutrition than a blueberry and the texture is different from different varieties."
Her company first heard about the haskap berries from Innovation PEI and planted their fields in Grandview in 2018.
Wang said it will take at least another three years before the berries are ready for a commercial harvest.
In the winter, her company ships Canadian goods to Taiwan, including haskap powder and tea as well as products made from maple syrup.
An Island company that breeds haskap plants estimates there are now 50 acres of haskaps in commercial production on P.E.I.