Back in 2009 when I was on a co-op work term at an advertising agency in Toronto, I remember becoming totally wrapped up in a Food Network series, The 100 Mile Diet. It followed the lives of a BC family who decided to step up to the challenge of eating only locally grown, sourced and produced food for 100 days. I watched the entire series online and remember being equally fascinated and inspired by their willingness to try new things, learn more about the food producers near them, deal with struggles and spread the message about the importance of eating locally.
Fast forward to now, and eating as local as possible has definitely gained popularity across the country. It only takes biting into one perfectly sun-ripened strawberry from a nearby farm or garden to make you never want to touch another grocery store clamshell of strawberries again. Living here in Vancouver, we’re especially blessed to have so many farms within easy driving distance from the city. It just so happens that Mission, the city where The 100 Mile Diet was filmed, is only an hour away and while I have yet to visit, this past weekend I went on a little adventure to a town called Aldergrove. It’s got plenty of farms, fruit stands, and perhaps most interestingly, a U-pick goji farm!
Rewinding a bit to the CHFA West trade show I attended in May, one of the fantastic connections I made was a lady by the name of Danise. She and her husband Peter are the owners of Gojoy, and the couple behind Canada’s only (or at least the largest) large-scale goji berry farm. If you live in Canada’s western provinces, you might have seen their Berry Smoothie Booster Blend in the freezer section of your local Save-on-Foods, Urban Fare or Whole Foods.
On Saturday I had the opportunity to head out to Aldergrove for a tour of Peter and Danise’s farm, pick and taste some fresh goji berries and learn about how they got started.
As you’ve probably noticed, goji berries are pretty popular in the world of superfoods, but it’s very rare (at least here in North America) that you find them in any form other than dried. In addition, the manufacturers behind the dried gojis we eat typically source the berries from China, where they’ve been used for years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat all sorts of health conditions. I had no idea that goji berries could be grown in Canada, and was thrilled to hear that this was happening only an hour away!
Goji berries weren’t Peter and Danise’s first foray into farming. They already have tons of bell peppers growing in their greenhouses, and they were kind enough to give me a bag of multicoloured baby ones during the visit. When Peter first decided investigate how to grow goji berries on a large scale, there was nothing available online at all (and definitely nothing specific to growing in Canadian climates!) Luckily, through plenty of experimentation and persistence, he and Danise have managed to successfully expand their goji berry crop to cover 10 acres. They’ve also got half an acre of covered area with rows of thriving goji plants underneath.
One of the coolest things I learned while tasting the berries (which we did plenty of!) was that even when taken from the same shoot of the plant, the berries can taste completely different. They start off as little purple flowers that look like this…
… and eventually they turn into a small green berry. With plenty of sunshine, they eventually turn yellowish-orange, then a vibrant orange-red colour. They also sweeten over time, but the key is to pick the berries right at their prime because they’re super delicate. Inside they’re full of bright orange juice and about 30-40 tiny white seeds.
Interestingly, not all goji berries – even when ripe – are totally sweet. They’re in the same family as peppers and tomatoes, which makes them a great addition to savoury recipes like salsa, sauces and marinades. Regardless of taste, they’re all loaded with vitamins A, C, E and antioxidants.
Just like they need to be picked quickly once ripened, goji berries also ned to be used up pretty quickly or else they go mushy. I froze about half of the ones I got from the farm and I’m so excited to use them in upcoming smoothies. As for the rest, they were staring at me when I got home from an amazing 5 hour hike at Garibaldi Lake yesterday afternoon. Since it was only about 4:30pm, I decided to use them in a salsa that I snacked on along with crackers. It was so simple, so good, and a bunch more went on the fish I ate for dinner. Here’s the recipe in case you’d like to try it too:
Pineapple Pepper Goji Salsa
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 0 mins
Ingredients (about 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup diced sweet bell peppers
- 1/2 cup fresh diced pineapple chunks
- 2 tbsp minced red onion
- 1 tbsp minced fresh parsley or cilantro
- juice of 1/2 lime
- a few pinches of chili pepper (optional)
- 1/2 cup fresh goji berries
- 1/3 cup diced avocado
Toss all ingredients into a bowl except for the fresh goji berries and diced avocado, stirring to combine.
Add the goji berries and avocado, and stir gently, aiming not to crush too many of the berries.
Let the flavours develop by allowing the salsa to sit for about 5 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers, or serve on top of grilled fish.
Thank you so much for Danise and Peter at Gojoy for the awesome experience. If any of you are ever visiting BC and happen to be passing through the area, this is definitely worth a stop!
So tell me…
- Have you tried fresh goji berries before?
- Are there any u-pick farms in your area? Have you been to check them out?