The Saskatoon Farm situated just northeast of Okotoks in DeWinton, Alberta and a short 10 minute drive from southern Calgary, is described as a “hidden gem” by locals and considered an international tourist attraction in Canada. The Saskatoon berry has been a treasured wild fruit and a prairie tradition past and present. The U-Pick Saskatoons is a popular event that allows people to pick their own berries. For more information check the saskatoonfarm.com website.
The Saskatoon Farm Storefronts
Owners Paul and Karen Hamer of The Saskatoon Farm initially bought the property as an existing barley field in 1987 but they decided to clear the land to make way for 50 acres of the Saskatoon berry orchard. “We decided on naming it The Saskatoon Farm because this is our main business and it’s our only location worldwide,” explains Paul Hamer. “We have 50 acres of Saskatoon berry bushes and a few sour cherry orchards. We also have an amazing large garden and offer our farm fresh grown vegetables every day for purchase.”
The word ‘Saskatoon’ comes from the Cree word “Mis-sask-qua-too-mina.” Saskatoon berries were especially important in the past as this prairie fruit was prevalent in the staple diet of First Nations tribes and early settlers of Western Canada due to medicinal qualities and vitamins. “Our favorite David Thompson quote is ‘On the great plains there is a shrub bearing a very sweet berry of a dark blue color, much sought after. It is the staple of all persons, and affords the most nourishment in the least space and weight. They ought to be cultivated: (David Thompson journal entry from June 22, 1810).’ The berries are popular because of the nutritional value and deliciousness of course,” shares Paul. Saskatoon berries also commonly known as Saskatoons naturally grow on the riverbanks.
From a health perspective, Saskatoon berries are considered a “Super Fruit” since they are rich in antioxidants and high in anthocyanins. There have been numerous studies and research on the nutritional value of high antioxidant fruits to fight cancers and heart diseases. One such study done by C.Hu, B.H.L. Kwok, and D.D. Kitts, reveals that Saskatoon berries are a good source of anthocyanins (Phytochemical Antioxidant). In fact, recent research indicates that Saskatoon berries have a higher level of antioxidants compared to wild blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. (Prairie Berries.com)
“Our favorite variety here at the farm is the Northline Saskatoon berry,” explains Paul. “It is the lowest growing bush reaching 8 – 10 ft. As well, this variety is less susceptible to insects and diseases. The fruit itself is wonderful for all aspects of use. It is a large berry delicious for fresh eating and holds up well when processed or frozen. This variety is our number one choice because it is a great berry to harvest.”
The other types of berries available at The Saskatoon Farm are strawberries and sour cherries. “Everyone loves strawberries and now because of the nutritional value of sour cherries they are very much in demand too,” adds Paul.
When Paul and Karen first created the concept for the hometown feel of The Saskatoon Farm, they maintained the essence of their concept as they expanded. “It just came naturally. Every year there is a new aspect. This year the additions are two totem poles.”
Additionally, there are key elements that make The Saskatoon Berry Farm attractive to locals, national and international visitors. “Each year when you come to visit, you will see something new at The Saskatoon Farm. We expanded the café to a 100 seat arrangement. We have added additional retail space for furniture. We have a new building open during the summer to grab a sandwich, drink or ice cream cone. We have reconditioned two totem poles and they now stand proudly just outside our doors. Who knows what next year will bring?”
Some domesticated animals roam freely on the property while others are contained. “We have farm dogs and cats. We also have some birds and a pot-bellied pig that are contained but are viewable to the public,” clarifies Paul.
U-Pick is a big part of The Saskatoon Farm during the summer. “When the Saskatoon berries are ready, we offer them pre-picked (subject to availability) and a U-Pick option. People love the idea of picking their own berries. They are more delectable when you pick them yourself!” The Saskatoon berries U-Pick season begins at the very end of July and early August and lasts approximately for 2-3 weeks depending on the weather. “The prices are: U-Pick 4 litre pail $14.00 and for a pre-picked purchase it is $20.00 for a 4 litre pail. This year we have implemented a $2.00 grazing charge for those entering the orchard,” informs Paul. In the off season, Saskatoon berry goods are plentiful and available for purchase too. “During the no pick season we sell our fruit frozen, Saskatoon baking, and preserves to the public.”
Saskatoon berry pies are not only popular with Albertans but there is a big demand for this fruit and the numerous edible products made from them. “We have visitors to The Saskatoon Farm from all across the country and the USA. Just about every one of them takes a Saskatoon pie home,” adds Paul.
The Saskatoon Farm is open all year round with the exception of a break at Christmas. They employ both year round and seasonal workers. Additionally, space is available so that the public can rent it for private functions. Demands are high for special events of all kinds. “We are busy with private functions all year long but especially in the summer. We cater to weddings and all other celebrations. Our facility is getting booked up earlier and earlier every year,” says Paul.
The attendance records per year are healthy and there is no sign of it slowing down any time soon. “Not sure what our attendance records are but when the cars are lined up down the driveway it’s a good day!” exclaims Paul. “We do have peak times but certainly have never turned anyone away. We meet new people every day from all over the world and of course we have all our regulars who keep coming back.”
Also popular at The Saskatoon Farm is the Garden Centre which is open from late April to mid-October. The Saskatoon Farm offers a wide selection of seeds, plants and trees that are readily available for growing in their customers’ own gardens. Paul explains, “We offer seeds as well as outside decor and pots. We offer annuals, perennials, herbs, hanging baskets, trees and shrubs that are mostly available from May to October.” Additionally, The Saskatoon Farm catalogue and mail order business is appealing to the public. There are also buyers outside of Canada. “We distribute a mail order tree and shrub catalogue annually. Most of our customers are on the prairies but we have shipped trees as far away as Europe.”
The Saskatoon Farm restaurant and Gift Shop are two attractions that are consistently busy. “Our cafe menu provides a Mexican flare as well as traditional items. We offer gluten free options for people with food sensitivities. Our cafe is open in the summer from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and in winter from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” clarifies Paul. The Gift Shop is a one of a kind place to purchase antiques and homemade goods by artisans. There are a variety of paintings, photographs and handcrafted items for sale. “Our gift shop has expanded along with the space over the years. We keep our customers coming back by always finding new suppliers and introducing new giftware.”
Intrinsic values and teamwork make The Saskatoon Farm successful as they create, operate, and maintain their popular venue for the public. These values focus on people and their shared energy to support this flourishing venture. “We have a wonderful supportive staff and we believe in being proud of what we have to offer thereby keeping it interesting for the public. We want people to tell their friends and relatives so that they can accompany them during their next visit.”