With over 50 years’ experience as a businessman, farmer and entrepreneur, Peter Rhodes wasn’t ready to retire when he emigrated from England to Canada in 2002 at the age of 70. Instead, he launched into yet another venture.
“My partner Lisa and I lived in Saskatoon for a short time, but I’m not a city boy. We started looking around and purchased 80 acres close to the city. Lisa teaches school in Saskatoon and she didn’t want to commute long distances,” he says.
The location was ideal for a U-pick fruit orchard. Rhodes cultivated 12 acres of land and planted 10,000 raspberry canes and 3,000 black currant bushes. “When I first came, I thought, there’s no point in planting saskatoons. I might be gone before the bushes started to produce,” he said. However, he had demand for them almost immediately and has since planted about five acres.
Rhodes didn’t realize at the time that black currants weren’t commonly grown in Canada, and there was minimal interest in the berries at first. “But the goodness of black currants started to spread. Each year they’ve become more and more popular,” he says.
Now demand for the fruit usually exceeds Rhodes’ supply. Cypress Hills Vineyard and Winery alone purchases over 3,000 pounds of the fruit annually.
Black currants are highly regarded not only for their intense, delicious flavour, but also for their nutritional benefits. They are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, and high in vitamin C. They also contain minerals such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc.
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“During the Second World War, England encouraged people to grow black currants because oranges were difficult to obtain. The berries are excellent for preventing colds, flus and fighting diseases like cancer, arthritis and skin conditions. They’re also good for eyesight and the seeds are rich in essential fatty acids,” he said.
Black currants are delicious fresh, or processed in jams, jellies and sauces, and can also be used in ice creams, cordial, liqueur and wine. Rhodes sells the berries fresh or frozen, and also has jam, gelato and sorbet for sale.
Black currant bushes are extremely winter hardy and Rhodes says he hasn’t had any serious problems with disease or insect infestations, partly because there are very few growers in the area. However, several insects are common to the fruit. One is the fruit fly that lays its egg in the developing berry, which usually falls off before the fruit is ripe. Another — the currant borer — affects only the stems and canes, which have to be pruned in early spring.
The majority of his black currants are a hardy, disease-resistant Polish variety. He also grows “Whistler,” a few Scottish varieties, and some of the European “Ben” series, which are mildew resistant.
Raspberries are another popular fruit, although more labour intensive as they require annual pruning and thinning. Rhodes has approximately 30 acres of raspberries, with about 14 different varieties.
Last summer Rhodes started a spinoff venture. He’d read of the health benefits of dried raspberry and black currant leaves and purchased the equipment to grind the dried leaves for making tea.
Managing a U-pick operation means long hours in the summer for him, his wife Lisa and their 10-year-old daughter, Hanna. During the winter Rhodes catches up on the paperwork and services all the equipment so it is in good working order for the spring.
Rhodes says he enjoys work and the solitude of country life. “A lot of people at 70 have packed up and are waiting to die. I prefer to keep busy. It’s just pleasant out here in the summer — no noise, just the birds.”
For more information visit www.rhodesraspberries.ca, phone 306-934-6748 or 306-612-2361, or email [email protected]. The orchard is open from early July to late September. Call ahead for availability.