Monday, 24 June 2013

Seabuckthorn Berries – Superfruit of the Himalayas Grown in Elgin County

Chris Meeuse began farming with his father at the age of 18 and at 25 he took over the operation of their Tobacco farm in Central Elgin. An article in Fruit and Vegetable Grower Magazine about Seabuckthorn Berries sparked his interest and Chris and his wife Patricia started growing the fruit in 2007.

Originally found in the Himalayan Mountains, Seabuckthorn berries are very small, orange berries that are extremely tart when eaten raw.  Lauded for their health benefits, these powerful antioxidants are loaded with omega’s 3, 6, 7 and vitamin D. Although it is relatively new to North America, this superfruit has long been a popular nutritional, medicinal and beauty supplement in many parts of the world. When sweetened the Seabuckthorn berry has a mild taste of peach and citrus and can be used in juices, jams and pies among other things.

“We make smoothies out of them,” says Meeuse.

Seabuckthorn Berries are extremely popular in China where most of the word’s supply is grown. There are few sources of the berries in Canada with some growers in Saskatchewan and Quebec. The same sandy soil that made the Meeuse farm ideal for growing Tobacco is also ideal for the Seabuckthorn tree. The Seabuckthorn tree can handle temperatures anywhere from - 40 to +50 degrees Celsius but according to Meeuse, Elgin County’s heat units make it a perfect location for the trees to thrive.
“We have a wonderful growing climate here,” he says. “There is nothing that can’t be grown on the land in Elgin County.”

Although these hearty trees can survive in varying temperature conditions, it is very difficult to get an orchard established. The trees are extremely difficult to find in North America. The Meeuses purchased their trees from a distributor in Newfoundland who originally had sourced the trees from Lithuania. The trees require a great deal of water and they cannot be sprayed with any chemicals. Harvesting the berries proves a challenge as they have numerous thorns and gloves cannot be used because the fruit is so small.

“That is how they protect themselves from birds and animals.” Says Meeuse with a laugh. “They have a pretty good thorn on them!”

With a little skill these thorns can be avoided and many visitors come out to the farm to pick their own berries each year from late July to the end of August.  Located at 43315 Roberts Line, Central Elgin just south of Sparta Line, the farm is open from 8am – 5pm, seven days a week during the peak season.  The berries will also be available at a second location this summer in downtown Sparta, ON.

This summer the farm will host the first ever Seabuckthorn Festival from July 27-28, 2013. The festival will include vendors selling a variety of items including Seabuckthorn Berries, hay rides around the orchard and the opportunity to purchase a Seabuckthorn tree for your own garden.

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