The Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America exists to support and enhance the commercial production, marketing and utilization of saskatoons by:
- Creating demand through developing consumer awareness about saskatoons and their value as a healthy and enjoyable food product
- Providing grower education and assistance to increase productivity, protect quality and maintain profitability
- Establishing collaborative relationships with educational institutions and other organizations to achieve our mission and goals.
Who We Are
We are a group of farmers who are excited about the qualities and uses of saskatoon berries: propagators, planters, growers, harvesters, and produce vendors. The Institute has no paid staff; no contracted marketing firm, bureaucrats, lobbyists or fundraisers. We are all about getting out the word about how nutritious, delicious and versatile saskatoon berries are, and letting everyone know where they can get this exceptional fruit, whether You-Pick, fruit stand, farm market or mail order. We welcome new members and look forward to working with other like-minded farmers throughout the US and Canada.
Why The Institute Was Created
Two farmers started talking about how the task of market development was bigger than any one farmer had time for. And it would be a shame for several farmers to each “recreate the wheel”. While these farmers are experienced in other crops, they were pioneering saskatoon growth. There was so much to learn about growing, increasing productivity and distributing saskatoons. Though the berries have been growing wild in many parts of North America for centuries, the agricultural production of this fruit is relatively new. Some early discussions also included the likelihood of receiving grants, being more likely for a group than for individual farmers. There were a growing number of farmers who had planted young plants that were not yet bearing fruit, so some thought about waiting until they had fruit in hand. Further discussion revealed that waiting until that point reduced the opportunities to sell that first year’s fresh fruit. Therefore, a group of forward-thinking farmers decided to get to work as soon as possible. As interest grew, we planned meetings and set about to complete the legal work of establishing the Institute.
How We Are Funded
Member farms pay annual dues, and the Saskatoon Michigan Farm and Nursery donates to the Institute $0.10 for each plant sold. Other donations, both cash and services, have been provided, according to the Institute’s needs.
Prices for apples and cherries were causing economic stress for local growers and they were looking for other crops such as hops, wine grapes, and other value-added choices. Steve Fouch, then on staff with MSU Extenstion, researched alternative crops.
Dan Kelner, from North Dakota, shared valuable information related to planting and care.
Steve Fouch returned from a trip to Saskatchewan, ready to spread the word related to a “new” berry called saskatoons or juneberries. These berries were cold hardy and resembled blueberries in appearance but were firmer and had a sweet almond flavor. Another benefit was that they ripened just ahead of cherries.
Steve Fouch worked with Troy Isaac and Jarvis Blushke to identify varieties and plant sources.
After hearing Steve Fouch on the WTCM Farm and Orchard Show, Matt Rieschl, of Beulah, started sourcing potted plants through Jarvis and sold berries at several farm markets and was a strong promoter. Matt continued until shortly before he passed away in early 2013.
Jarvis Blushke assisted Steve Fouch with staying in contact with growers as they worked to identify lessons learned.
Steve Fouch continued to share information related to the planting, growing and future marketing of saskatoons. He obtained a small grant through MSU, and used the funds to purchase a number of plants and several varieties that were given to four local growers to test: Dave Kroupa (Old Mission Peninsula), Leslie Putney (Benzonia), Michigan State University Farm (East Lansing) and Northwest Michigan Horticultural Station (Leelanau Peninsula). Results were mixed but there was enough success that interest began to intensify and more individuals began to order plants from several sources in Canada.
Sarah Lutz (Bear Lake) assisted growers in obtaining plants and coordinated the Midwest Saskatoon Project. Sarah relocated in 2011. That project is now defunct, though it provided nutrients for the roots of this Institute.
June – Interested growers arrange a tour of several fields to showcase saskatoons and learn more about the growing process and the various approaches to plant maintenance.
April – Cydney Steeb sells saskatoon bushes through the Emmett Conservation District Spring Tree Sale.
Casual discussions started among farmers regarding the need for a cooperative effort among saskatoon growers.
Fall – Discussions continued after the harvesting of saskatoons and other crops.
April – A Strategic Plan was drafted, identifying goals and opportunities for the Institute.
Winter – A group got together for initial discussions on how they might work together. The group included a group of farmers, Jeremy Conaway (a strategic planner), and Brian Tenis, from the local hops organization, who spoke about how they organized or similar organization for their crop.
Steve Fouch retires from the Benzie County MSU Extension Office to devote himself to farming and agritourism.
August 17 – “Cash Crop: The North’s New Berry” appears in regional magazine
May 20 – Week in Photos, a section of the local newspaper, includes a variety of photographs of the planting process for saskatoons
May – Logo approved for Institute Use
April 18 – The Institute was incorporated in the State of Michigan
April 11 – Founding Board elected
March 22 – Interested parties met to discuss the value of cooperating with grower education, market development and product marketing. Those in attendance included propagators, growers, Edwin “Duke” Elsner (an Agricultural Extension specialist)
November 2 – Institute members served Saskatoon berries and products at the Fall Harvest celebration at Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan).
July – Steve DuCheney is interviewed on Michigan Farm and Garden TV about Saskatoons
May – Michigan Country Lines publishes an article “The Saskatoons Are Here!”
April – Duke Elsner published an article entitled “Saskatoons: A small fruit with big ambitions”
April – Michigan State University Extension completes first known draft of Pesticide and Herbicide recommendations specifically for saskatoon berries.
April 4 – Joshua Wunsch, who is involved with a cherry growers organization, spoke about how cherry growers organized, and what is working well, and not so well. He also spoke about the benefits of standard packaging as well as how the group can work together in marketing.
March – The Promotions Committee begins to identify goals and means
March – The Grants Committee begins compiling a list of potential grant opportunities and Institute needs
January 17 – First Annual Meeting held for members, Bylaws approved.
July 15 – Steve DuCheney is interviewed by CBC Radio (Canada) and The Green Bay Gazette (WI)
July 14 – NPR runs a story, coast to coast, by Peter Payette: Saskawhat? A Novel Berry From Canada Takes Root On Michigan Farms
July – Saskatoons are sold at Northern Michigan grocers for the first time, including: Olesons, Village Market and Tom’s (Each with more than one location)
June 10 – WJR (Detroit, MI) talks about saskatoons
June 9 –Steve DuCheney interviewed on WTCM AM and FM shows (Northern MI)
June 7 – Farm Tour of saskatoon plots held (MI)
June 4 – Interlochen Public Radio (IPR) runs story about the development of the saskatoon berry as a commercial crop.
A Growers Survey is distributed to known parties around North America to discern the current and near-future production potential of saskatoon berries a well as best practices for field preparation and harvesting.
February 1 – Small Farm Conference (MI)
January 15 – Northern Michigan Orchard and Vineyard Show: Half a day has been set aside to focus on saskatoons
June 16 - Following an online survey, The Saskatoon Berry Industry Cop Survey 2015 is distributed to all survey respondents. This survey projects the size of the crop, and most common sales methods, for all or North America.
January 30 - The Economics of Growing Saskatoons is presented at The Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference
SBINA partners with The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP)