WELLESLEY ISLAND — The sight of little Juneberries growing from their plants excited two scientists as they explored the fields of Cross Island Farms on Friday.
Michael H. Davis, farm manager for the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, Willsboro, and Michael B. Burgess, assistant professor for SUNY Plattsburgh’s department of biological sciences, have spent years researching the commercial viability of growing and selling Juneberries, Honeyberries and Aronia berries in Northern New York.
All three berries, which resemble blueberries, fall under the Amelanchier genus, a category of flower bearing plants with berries or other pome fruit. Both researchers have been studying commercial and wild cultivars, or types, of berries in the Amelanchier genus to determine which ones exhibit the best growth and yield across the region’s various soil and weather conditions, Mr. Burgess said. Producers can sell the fruit at u-picks or farmers markets and use them in value-added products like juice, ice cream, candy, wine and more to generate additional income.
“It became clear that there were opportunities for growers in the north country to have novelty fruit crops,” Mr. Davis said. “There’s a huge demand for fruit. People love fruit; fresh, local fruit.”
Juneberries were planted at Cross Island Farms for the research project three years ago, while Aronia berries were planted two years ago and Honeyberries were planted last year.
Farm co-owner Dani F. Baker showed the researchers their plants as they toured the farm during a hot, sunny afternoon. While the berries on them were small and had little color, the scientists took delight in seeing their plants bear fruit. Mr. Davis said the Amelanchier varieties can take three to five years to develop and establish. Mr. Burgess said he was encouraged because the plants were in good health.
“They’re in here, they’re growing, they’re establishing something,” Mr. Burgess said.
The scientists kicked off their research in 2013 by planting a Juneberry nursery at Cornell’s Willsboro field station.
They have since expanded their inventory to include all commercial Amelanchier cultivars, many ornamental cultivars and a variety of wild species from across eastern North America at the Willsboro station, Cross Island Farms and two farms in Clinton and Essex counties, Mr. Burgess said. Their ongoing research builds off previous work from farmers who have grown with the berries, but will help identify which varieties grow best in the north country, he said.
As they collected data, Mr. Davis said they learned Juneberries do not fare well in wet, heavy soils. Their Aronia and Honeyberries are early on in their growth, but the researchers have witnessed results from their Juneberry plants in Willsboro.
“We just got our first really good yield last year,” Mr. Davis said.
Ms. Baker said she has been growing her own Juneberries and Honeyberries for several years. She showcased her own Honeyberry plants while they toured the farm, and the berries had ripened with a dark blue hue glowing in the sun. The scientists, Ms. Baker and fellow farm owner David L. Belding then sampled the sweet, juicy berries.
“I love working with scientists and — you know — helping advance agriculture,” Ms. Baker said.
The farmer-led Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has provided funding to support the research project and other studies for specialty fruit crops.
Some berry basics
n Juneberry: A member of the rose family, although it is related to pears and apples, that is known for its sweet flavor and “superfruit” antioxidants. It native to every U.S. state except Hawaii
n Honeyberry: A perennial, fruit-producing shrub native to temperate forests in western North America, Asia and Europe. It has few pests and produces mature fruit earlier than strawberries.
n Aronia berry: A member of the rose family that includes three species of deciduous shrubs native to the eastern U.S. It’s high antioxidant and beneficial phytonutrient levels have earned it the “superfood label.” It has few pests or diseases and can produce fruit throughout the growing season.