Explore Native Fruits

These obscure, small fruit and berries may be the next bestseller for your business, and a new favorite fruit for your customers.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Maren Winter

Nothing succeeds like success.” This seems to qualify as the mantra for many of our growers and agricultural extension agents when it comes to berries and small fruit. The overwhelming attention and resources devoted to a small number of the most popular fruits and berries ends up perpetuating these crops.

I’m not saying farmers shouldn’t be growing strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Obviously, people love to eat these healthful fruits. But by sidelining and neglecting other possibilities, farmers may be missing out on lucrative niche markets that can bring in additional income and attract new customers. A good number of these “new” crops are native species that’ll add to the array of crops available to local farmers. They’re frequently no- or low-spray and well-adapted to local conditions.

For the past 12 years, I’ve focused the activity of my small suburban farm on less common berries: gooseberry, red currant, haskap, jostaberry, elderberry, and aronia, among others. Recently, I’ve become interested in the potential of some less appreciated native plants. It’s been a real challenge to find these plants and to get growing and market information. Without such basic information, potential growers will be working in the dark as they consider adding these plants.

Most of the following fruits and berries are usually foraged from plants growing wild. While this fruit can be considered free for the taking on some public land, there are other considerations to take into account. Wild plants are usually not growing under ideal conditions. Fruit load may be modest, and access to the plants may be challenging, both in terms of travel time and physical barriers (such as poison ivy) near the plants. Plus, plants growing near easy access points (such as by the roadsides) may be exposed to harmful car emissions or chemical sprays.

By starting small and testing out these native species and the corresponding markets, growers should be able to profitably explore new opportunities, and bring their consumers new experiences and the chance to enjoy some of the bounty from plants that are growing all around us.

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