Have you ever tried seabuckthorn berries?” is the first question you will likely hear as you enter Saskatoon’s Farmers’ Market.
Betty Forbes, who operates the first booth at the market, will then likely tell you that if you travelled to Saskatoon by vehicle, you’ve probably passed numerous seabuckthorn bushes without even knowing it.
This bush was a federal shelterbelt experiment in the 1950s when Indian Head, Saskatchewan’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) began a breeding program with shrubs imported from Germany and Siberia.
In 1998, Betty Forbes’ father planted 15 acres of the hardy trees and tried to market the berry for human consumption based on its high vitamin C content.
“The market in this part of the world wasn’t quite ready so it was a really tough go,” said Forbes, owner of Northern Vigor Berries Inc., a company that now produces and sells a wide variety of seabuckthorn products.
In 2006, Forbes was working as a teacher for Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) when her family discussed the possibility of getting rid of the seabuckthorn orchard that had been sitting dormant on the family farm in Veregren, Sask.
“I said, ‘You know what, give me a chance because it’s too good of a crop to get rid of,’” said Forbes.
She eventually quit her teaching job and began devoting her life to the harvesting and marketing of the seabuckthorn berry. Her company, which goes by the retail name nvigorate, first began selling the berries to restaurants and then branched out to create products such as seabuckthorn gelato, chocolates, tea, syrup, jam and even soap.
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With Dr. Oz (from the television show of the same name) endorsing the nutritional value of the omega 3- and omega 6-packed berry and with consumers seeking healthier food options, Forbes was able to convert all of her crop into product and then began having other farmers ship their crops to her as well.
The most difficult part of the process, said Forbes, is still harvesting the berries themselves. Because the seabuckthorn branches are thorny and brittle, hand picking and machine harvesting are not options. The only way to harvest the berries is to cut off fruit-bearing branches in September, freeze them overnight in a -30 C refrigerator truck and then knock the berries off by hand.
Forbes finds that once people stop at her farmers’ market booth for a taste of her products, they discover that the berries aren’t just good for you, they’re good tasting too.
“They have a tropical and a tangy flavour so for Saskatchewan people to get that right at home, they’re always very surprised,” said Forbes.
The growing popularity of the seabuckthorn berries has created a well-paying full-time job for Forbes and she expects her business and the market for seabuckthorn berries to continue to grow.
“In other parts of the world people have incorporated seabuckthorn into everything they do so it’s just a matter of people becoming aware that we have this super-fruit here.”
For more information, visit the Nvigorate website.