Co-op of haskap berry growers launches in the Maritimes

A new co-operative of farmers in the Maritimes is hoping to make the haskap berry as common as the blueberry or strawberry.

Twenty-eight growers have joined Hazzberry Farms to promote the tart-tasting berry that they use to produce juice, jellies, spreads and dessert sauce. 

The unique climate in Nova Scotia lends an additional quality to the berry, said Joe Piotti, the head of the co-operative.

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"The very nature of creating a co-operative allows farmers, instead of working in competition with each other, is to work collaboratively," said Piotti, a haskap grower from Earltown, N.S.  

Piotti said LaHave Natural Farms, one of the first haskap producers in the province, paved the way for their group's farmers. The farm went bankrupt after their juice, Haskapa, won the award for best new juice at the World Juice Congress.

"We owe a lot of thanks to the research and the legwork to the people at LaHave," Piotti said. "I think where perhaps a difference may be is that collectively as farmers we work toward the same common objective."

Sue Bourinot of The Teazer in Mahone Bay is launching the co-operative's first round of products on Saturday.

"I believe [in] the whole buy local, support local and I think Nova Scotia has a great reputation for helping each other," said Bourinot.

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Danielle King and Matt Krizan are featuring the berry on their menus at the Kitch'inn bed and breakfast and Mateus Bistro.

"Mahone Bay is a bit of a foodie town. I think everybody is really conscious of trying to support local makers and growers," said King.  

Krizan said the tart flavour works well with savory or sweet dishes.

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After some trial and error with deer and raccoons eating their haskap shrubs, growers Betty Hutton and Brian O'Kane have put up netting to keep animals away from their crop.

Cedar waxwings have found a workaround to the netting on their farm overlooking Mahone Bay.

"One bird will sit on the top of the shrub and his friends will come underneath and they'll pass the berries up to him and they'll eat until they can't fly," said Hutton.

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"I like to eat to them. I don't like the work involved with it, but I do like to cook with it," she said. 

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