Bagley couple grow, sell ‘mystery berry’
By Erik Burgess
Forum News Service
BAGLEY — The honeyberry is oblong like a strawberry, but it doesn’t taste like a strawberry. It’s blue, too, but it doesn’t taste like a blueberry.
"It tastes like a mystery berry," said Bernis Ingvaldson, co-owner of The Honeyberry Farm here. "It tastes like you put all your berries together in a smoothie, and you aren’t really sure what it is."
Ingvaldson and her husband, Jim, have run a honeyberry, or edible blue honeysuckle, nursery here since 2010.
Through their website, they also sell other cold-hardy fruit trees, specializing in Canadian varieties of saskatoons, cherries, currants and others.
"If it grows in northern Canada, it’ll grow here," Ingvaldson said.
But it was the honeyberry that first captured Ingvaldson’s heart and drew her into the berry farming business a couple of years ago.
She wanted to start growing blueberries, but found they don’t fare well in the cold Minnesota terrain. While flipping through a garden catalog in 2010, she discovered the honeyberry does just fine here.
It’s a fruit that Ingvaldson says is somewhat uncommon in North America, but it’s considered a delicacy in Japan – it’s called haskap there – and it’s present across northern Asia and Europe.
There’s also quite the honeyberry operation in Ingvaldson’s home province of Saskatchewan, Canada, she discovered on a trip there a couple of years ago just after she had placed her first order for some honeyberry plants.
She first tried the purplish blue berry while she was visiting a friend’s farm in Saskatchewan.
"It was delicious," she said. "It has a zing to it, like a raspberry. It has a tart, sweet flavor."
The University of Saskatchewan runs a honeyberry breeding program to develop better varieties than are currently available, Ingvaldson said.
Staff at the university has been instrumental in helping Ingvaldson and her husband, who aren’t exactly berry farmers by nature. Jim grew up on a dairy farm here, and Bernis was raised on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan.
"The learning curve was extremely steep, but people have been very helpful," Ingvaldson said.
The university sends cuttings to licensed propagators in Canada, and the Ingvaldsons buy them up from there, selling them in America to growers and wholesalers.
The honeyberry does not have the best reputation, due to ignorance about when to eat the fruit, Ingvaldson said. Too often, samplers will only wait until the berries turn color before eating.
"But if you taste it (then), people spit it out," she said. "You need to wait another three weeks for it reach maturity, then it gets sweet."
The couple use Google alerts to promote their small business, which they run out of their log cabin here with just a few acres of plants. Ingvaldson also writes a honeyberry blog.
There are, of course, several kinds of honeyberry, and the Ingvaldsons offer many online, such as the borealis, tundra, indigo gem and honey bee. Each has its own combination of tang and sweetness.
It usually takes a few years for the plant to begin producing a significant number of berries. The couple have scheduled their first honeyberry harvest around the Fourth of July.
"This is the first year where we expect a little bit of crop," Ingvaldson said. "We don’t want a mad rush, but we do welcome people to come and visit our nursery and sample the berries."
Visit www. honeyberryusa.com or call (218) 694-3071. The Honeyberry Farm is about 1.5 miles southeast of Bagley, at 19736 350th St.