Northern fruit farmers fill niche in unique berry market

In his early days as a fruit farmer, Greg Melien prefaced every public tour of his Warren-area farm explaining just what, exactly, a haskap berry is.

Resembling an elongated grape, the cold-tolerant fruit was, at that time, a rare sight on most grocery store shelves, and few were familiar with its tart, blueberry-raspberry flavour.

But nearly a decade on, the fruit’s popularity has skyrocketed, and the cobalt-coloured berry is hitting its stride as a tasty, vitamin-rich alternative to more traditional varieties.

“It’s really started to hit the mainstream, which is nice to see,” Greg said.

That’s good news for Greg and his wife, Mira, who together own and operate the Boreal Berry Farm and Winery, about 40 minutes east of Sudbury.

There, the couple grow, harvest, package and freeze several types of berry – haskap, lingonberry, sea buckthorn, aronia, and Saskatoon among them. Twelve products are available in total, including two berry blends, which are shipped frozen to grocers provincewide.

Close to 100 stores across Ontario now carry the Meliens’ all-organic fruit, including several independent banners.

A big break came last August when the couple signed a distribution agreement with the Québec-based grocery chain Metro, which now stocks eight of the Meliens’ products in 18 stores across Ontario.

By: Lindsay Kelly

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