Photo: MLA Mike Bernier, former Education Minister, and Dylan Shankel water the first haskap bush planted in the test plot at Peace Christian School.
All Photo Credit: Darren Shankel
Educators, farmers and students in B.C.’s northeast are working together to explore the potential benefits of growing haskap plants in the Chetwynd area. Haskap plants are a hardy cash crop with numerous health benefits that can grow in challenging conditions and can survive severe cold, qualities that make the plants well-suited for life in the Peace region.
In February 2018, the Peace Haskap Society, created and led by those at the Peace Christian School, was approved for $141,132 through Northern Development’s Economic Diversification Infrastructure program for the $405,479 pilot project. This project is the most recent phase of a multi-partner collaboration between the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Ashish Dave from Floramaxx in West Kelowna and four B.C. growers. The Peace Heritage Society is the northernmost organization in B.C. studying the viability of haskap growth.
“Hands-on learning is where education makes sense,” said Darren Shankel, principal at Peace Christian School. “Any time you can see the lightbulb come on for a student, that’s what teachers live for. This hands-on, exploratory education makes learning meaningful for students. Everything in the orchard applies to curriculum in some way and students gain a life skill that is marketable and it gives them opportunity.”
For the duration of this project, growers and students at Peace Christian School will test plant a new haskap berry variety in eight unique growing sites. Thorough documentation of the plant’s process and growth, soil conditions and other pertinent information will be collected and catalogued. This information will be reviewed to create best practices and templates for others who are venturing into haskap crop production in northeastern B.C.
Already, Shankel is seeing local people choosing to invest in haskap plants. Established farmers and ranchers find it a profitable way to diversify their crops with relatively little land. Other people are choosing to plant small sections to supplement their income and to try something different.
The introduction of haskap as a promising crop for those in Chetywnd and area will fill a need for business development, provide broader employment opportunities and grow a higher need for goods and services. Ancillary economic benefits will positively impact those who supply fertilizer, equipment, project and office goods.
Moving forward, the Peace Haskap Society plans to explore ways to enhance the entire haskap planting, growing and harvesting process. People will also research ways to create value-added products that will benefit the economy in the region.