When long-time Saskatchewan resident Sharon Vanhouwe moved with her husband (Monty) and parents (Dan and Carol) to Vancouver Island three years ago, she never imagined where the cross-country journey would take them. Coming from a 40 year background raising turkey and beef on the prairies, berry farming was completely new to the family – but they immediately fell in love with and bought the Cobble Hill orchard. They now maintain what Sharon says could be the biggest dedicated Saskatoon berry farm in BC, with approximately 7200 trees on 7 acres of land
According to Sharon, one of the best things about growing in the Cowichan area is the overwhelming “buy local” attitude, as well as the surprising number of loyal Saskatoon berry fans – many people have prairie roots and come from all over the Island to connect. She wishes the selling season didn’t end so quickly, as one of her favourite aspects of farm life is
interacting with their customers.
“They all have a Saskatoon berry story to tell,” she says. “One of our customers even brought us a CD with a song about picking Saskatoon berries!”
At South Island Saskatoons, they do their best to avoid pesticide use – in fact they haven’t since their first year on the farm. They do use a fungicide in mid-April, since Saskatoon berries are particularly susceptible to rot in ‘Wet Coast’ climate, but only once and well before any berries appear. They also use drip irrigation on the trees, which Sharon says helps the berries fill out nicely.
One of the orchard’s biggest challenges is the cost of automation. Currently all berries at South Island Saskatoons are hand-sorted, which can be very time consuming. Unfortunately says Sharon, the automatic sorters on the market are very cost prohibitive unless you are a “big guy”.
South Island Saskatoons sells both pre-picked and U-Picked berries, as well as a variety of fresh and frozen Saskatoon products such as pies, scones, tarts, jam, jelly and syrup. They have also worked with the Food Centre at Innovation Place at the University of Saskatchewan to develop a Saskatoon berry pie filling, which they sell both commercially as well as in smaller quantities for the home baker.
Their products can be found year-round at their on-farm store, at the Duncan Farmer’s Market, and online via CGC’s own Cow-Op!