Andrew Rosychuk calls himself a “city slicker turned farmer.”
The 32-year-old is Alberta’s longest-running grower of haskap berries, a “superfood” most people have probably never heard of.
Rosychuk planted his first haskaps, just 200 of the blueberry-like plants, on farmland his grandfather bought in 1936. Thirteen years later, he’s up to 17,000 haskaps--and growing--on land of his own, 76 acres near Alcomdale in Sturgeon County.
Haskaps are a fledgling crop in the province and a relative newcomer to Alberta soil. Rosychuk, who sees huge potential for the haskap industry, is an enthusiastic proponent of the nutritious fruit.
"It looks like an elongated blueberry and it tastes like 3/4 blueberry, 1/4 raspberry, some blackberry and elderberry tang,” he said. “But what really separates it from other fruit is it's three times the antioxidants and five times the anti-inflammatories.”
Haskaps are hardy, able to withstand wintertime lows of -50 C. They are native to Russia and Japan, but breeding work at the University of Saskatchewan has brought commercially viable varieties to Canada.
“So not only can we grow it in our backyard, kind of creating a blueberry industry for ourselves, but we also have something that is extremely healthy, really good for you, and tastes amazing."
Rosychuk grew up in Edmonton -- as a boy he was “always playing in the dirt.” He thought about pursuing a university degree after high school, but a visit to an Olds College trades fair gave him other ideas.
"And then it just seemed like, 'whoa, I get to grow? You get to take something and give it life and cultivate it and make it the way you want?'”
Rosychuk graduated from the college’s production horticulture program in 2005, the same year he planted his first haskaps. After taking some low-paying jobs on other people’s farms, he realized he would be better off getting land of his own. He entered the trades to help finance his dream, working in Fort McMurray and earning his Canadian Red Seal welding and boilermaker trades tickets.
In 2014, after countless hours of research and planning, Rosychuk bought his 76 acres. He spent a couple years rejuvenating the land, planting an annual/perennial mix to help amend the soil and adding a shelter belt to create a wind barrier and provide habitat for native pollinators.
Twenty-six acres at Rosy Farms are now dedicated to haskaps. Rosychuk planted 10,000 plants in 2016 and 7000 last year. This year, he’ll add another 7000. His father, Roger, helps out with operations while Rosychuk works full-time for Suncor.
For Rosychuk, haskaps are about much more than his own farm. He is also the founder of the Haskap Alberta Association, an organization set up to educate growers and give them a collective voice as the haskap industry takes root in Alberta. There are now about 350 acres of the berries across the province.
Rosychuk should see his first harvest in 2019. In the meantime, he’ll be bringing some handpicked haskaps to area farmer’s markets this July. He’ll be at the St. Albert market the first three Saturdays of the month and Edmonton’s 124 Street Grand Market the first three Thursdays. He’ll also be setting up U-pick hours, giving people a chance to come out and harvest some superfood of their own.
View the embedded image gallery online at: