Leslie and Dale Luhowy had a special treat to serve some recent visitors – freshly baked saskatoon pie made with berries from their very own orchard.
The family’s saskatoon operation was a definite draw for folks participating in the province’s first Open Farm Day Sept. 19. But while they were there, visitors also learned about the Luhowys’ rotational grazing system for their cattle herd.
Blue Moon Saskatoon was among four farms in the Rossburn- Russell area to participate in the day designed to connect urban Manitobans with the farm. Leslie said participating in the event helped their farm business.
“We signed up to help promote the business end of the farm, but more importantly, make people aware of where their food comes from,” said Leslie. “Farming is not 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.”
The couple began mixed farming in 1984 and diversified into saskatoon production five years later.
Leslie said it was her husband’s idea to introduce the saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) tree, which belongs to the rose family, to their farm. They harvested their first berry crop in 1994 and currently maintain a two-acre orchard.
The current planted acreage in Manitoba makes the saskatoon berry the second-largest commercial fruit crop in the province today, second only to strawberries. Saskatoons are widely used in pies, jams, jellies, syrups, ice cream toppings, wine, liqueurs and flavour concentrates to components of baked goods. They may be used fresh or frozen and can be dried to yield “raisins” or fruit leathers.
“Although there are a variety of saskatoons, we promote ‘Smokey – a very sweet, round berry, which is more susceptible to disease’ and ‘North Line – a larger fruit, closer to a wild berry taste,’” said Leslie, who also works full time off the farm at Glanbia Nutritionals near Angusville.
With trees flowering in May and June, they normally produce berries over a three-week period beginning in mid-July.
“When fruit is on, trees like hot weather,” said Leslie. “With so much rain, 2010 will go down as an average year at best.”
Starting out as a U-pick, Wepick, custom order orchard, the Luhowys have added value to their homegrown berries in the last four years by branching out into jam and jelly processing.
Tweaking her mom’s recipe, Leslie originally made the product on the farm, however, now she spends three days producing it on a larger scale at the Manitoba Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie.
The specialty food product is one of a number showcased by Uniquely Manitoba, formed in 2003, to assist Manitoba’s artists, craftspersons and specialty food producers in promoting their products to the marketplace. In addition to farm gate and direct sales via telephone or online, Blue Moon Saskatoon product label can also be found at a number of retail outlets including Parkway Co-op and Gone Scrappin’ in Bloom in Rossburn, Bigway at Shoal Lake, and Two Farm Kids in Brandon.
Whether or not the Open Farm Day results in increased sales, the Luhowys know their farm left a lasting impression in its visitors.
“By visiting something new, it’s the experience we enjoy,” said Charlie Main of Virden, who along with his wife Faye drove out to the farm. “I think a day such as this is a great idea.”
– Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba