Saskatoon grower the root of industry expansion

Jarvis and Emily Blushke sit in front of their British-style fireplace on their farm near Langham, Sask. Jarvis runs a mixed operation but his passion is producing and selling saskatoon plants.  |  Sean Pratt photo

Grower uses unique method to make hard-to-root plants perform and sells 40,000 rooted cuttings annually

LANGHAM, Sask. — Farming puts food on the table for Jarvis Blushke but it is his side business that feeds his soul.

“Jarvis has always had a passion for saskatoons since he was a boy with his mother,” said his wife, Emily.

“Some people go skiing and some people go to the cabin every week and some people do all sorts of things with their time and their money and Jarvis does saskatoons and always has.”

The mixed farm Jarvis grew up on and now owns backs the North Saskatchewan River. His mother would take him down there to dig up saskatoon plants and move them to the farm.

Jarvis eventually began developing his own varieties, which he put through trials at the University of Saskatchewan. One variety he developed called JB30 scored top marks for all the desirable attributes.

“That gave him a bit of an edge in the industry,” said Emily.

She was born in the Langham area, spent her formative and early adult years in England and then returned to Langham after marrying Jarvis.

The Blushkes pay their bills with the revenue they generate from farming 2,000 acres of conventional and organic crops and raising 60 head of all natural beef cattle.

But it is Blue Sky Berry Farm, the 15 acres of land containing 15,000 saskatoon plants, that is Jarvis’s real passion.

“If you can do something in your life that you’re interested in, you’ll always do a lot better and hopefully succeed in it,” he said.

Jarvis believes he is the only person in Canada producing saskatoon plants from etiolated cuttings, which means they were grown without light.

“It’s just a method of getting harder-to-root species to do so,” he said.

The saskatoon industry got its start by people growing seedlings but that produces plants with uneven heights. Jarvis said cuttings are the way to go.

“If you plant a cloned plant, your hedgerow starts off and ends exactly the same and the fruit ripens the same,” he said.

Jarvis entered the industry with a small U-pick operation but that business soon became saturated and was taken over by the big players.

Emily helped out with the business but is no longer actively involved.

“My role is much more just being a support to Jarvis and encouraging him to stick with it,” she said.

Jarvis decided it would be better to sell the plants rather than the berries. The farm annually produces an average of 40,000 rooted cuttings that become plants that are sold at various stages of development.

His target customer is commercial businesses that want to start up or expand their orchards.

Emily has a different clientele in mind. She likes selling two or three plants to young acreage owners.

“People are interested in having them as part of a living hedge and that interests me especially,” she said.

Selling a few plants at a time makes Jarvis cringe. He prefers selling thousands of cuttings to large orchards in Canada and the United States. They are even getting some overseas interest in the plants.

Foodies like them because they are healthy and come from a native plant.

Jarvis has contemplated retiring from the business but the timing isn’t right.

“All of the sudden, there’s some bigger things happening. That’s not really when you want to pull out,” he said.

Emily doesn’t think his hesitancy has anything to do with what’s happening in the industry.

“I wouldn’t see Jarvis ever retiring. He enjoys what he does,” she said.

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