Manitoba entrepreneur applies personal philosophy about using local, healthy foods to create thriving business
As a rich, marzipan-like scent wafts out of a tiny container of brass-gold oil that she is holding, Mila Maximets muses on years of painstaking efforts to use all parts of the tart cherries she processes.
“I’m not into juices,” said Maximets, who has been manufacturing a seabuckthorn puree for five years and has just begun marketing a tart cherry puree.
Her whole-food ethic arose from a childhood in Ukraine.
“That’s what my grandmother was saying: ‘no, you eat everything,’ ” she said.
“She was right.… I want the whole thing in a bottle.”
The oil that Maximets was holding is extracted from tart cherry pits, which can be used for high-end bakery products or for moisturizing skin creams.
It is a value-added element of tart cherries that could have been a waste product after the rest of the fruit has been used to make a puree. It is also part of Maximets’ commitment to making everything “whole” in both her products and processing.
The Ukrainian-born Manitoba resident founded her Solberry company almost as an afterthought as she followed her desire to adopt the eating ethics of her childhood, when her grandmother taught her all about foods’ nutritional and medicinal properties.
She latched onto seabuckthorn because it was familiar to her.
“We always had seabuckthorn around our house (in Ukraine),” said Maximets.
Frank L. Skinner of Agriculture Canada introduced seabuckthorn to Canada in the 1930s as part of his effort to find plants other than grasses and grains that would thrive in brutal prairie conditions. He imported the tough Asian shrub, which can handle the Prairies’ extremes.
Continuing research developed varieties that both thrived and produced abundant fruit.
The plants were also used for shelter belts promoted by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.
Maximets began experimenting with seabuckthorn purees in her own kitchen once she realized the berries existed in Canada and then relied on expertise from Manitoba Agriculture’s Food Development Centre in Portage La Prairie to create a consumer product that would provide the whole food integrity of the puree and be commercially viable.
That led to Maximets founding Solberry and beginning to make her seabuckthorn puree. She promotes it as a healthy whole food containing many attributes, including high levels of seratonin.
Her new tart cherry puree is also rich in whole food nutrients and contains high levels of melatonin.
“Seabuckthorn will help to make you happy,” she said.
“This (tart cherry puree) will help you to sleep. Perfect.”
On this early December day, she also had an array of seabuckthorn and tart cherry treats that she had whipped up in her kitchen. They looked like gelatin cubes but were shaped into hearts. It’s just another product of her creativity, something she has trouble restraining.
She already has one puree on the market, is in the midst of commercializing another, has teas and skin care products for sale and shows no signs of slowing down.
The business is getting more complex as she deals with all the challenges of innovation, but it all arises from a grandmother’s old-country wisdom and her desire to be able to eat and live in a way she feels is healthy.
“I created this product for myself, and then I tried to sell it to people,” she said with a smile.