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Frequently Asked Questions about Cherries

Bruce is a founding father of the Canadian Cherry Producers Inc., a non-profit growers organization. He is a Director of the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association (SFGA) and has represented SFGA nationally on the Canadian Horticultural Council. HBA has been very active in researching different agronomic methods of growing cherries. We walk the talk.

Q: Is there a difference between "dried" and "dehydrated"?

A: Dried is a more generic term and does not mean the water in the product has been removed to a food safe level. Our dehydrated cherries are tested to assure they are dried to well below the threshold where pathogens might grow. This is about 11 or 12% moisture but we use a more accurate measure - "water activity" (Aw). Aw has been used in the food industry as a more accurate measure. Pathogen growth increases with temperature and moisture...keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

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Q: Do you add stuff to lengthen the shelf life?

A: No. We would be financially wise to sell you sugar and oil at cherry prices. Sugar is commonly added as a preservative and the product does not have to be dried as much therefore it weighs more and the net result is you get less cherries per pound. Oil (sunflower or canola oil) is commonly added to prevent the cherries from sticking together. Again, consumers get less for their dollar but you may have oily hands afterwards as a bonus.

Dehydrated cherries contain a lot of natural sugar (see the nutrition facts label). It is the high acid content that makes them tart or sour.

Q: How long is dried fruit good for when prepared in a dish?
Q: How long does dried fruit last?

A: That depends. How long does pasta last? In general, dried fruit will last much longer than about anything else you might put into the dish, but only as long as the quickest expiring ingredient in the dish. Also how do you store it? Cool and dark is best. A pantry, refrigerator, freezer extends most foods especially after you open. Eliminate as much air as you can before freezing.

Q: Other fruit has been grown on the prairies for years. Do you support other initiatives?

A: Cherry growers seem to want to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the problems that will arise when growers start producing millions of pounds of cherries in a few short years.

We hardily support other initiatives. One of the huge gaps is the lack of marketing infrastructure in Saskatchewan. If all the production of a fruit or vegetable was combined it would not supply the needs of a massive food industry let alone a single major hotel. We do not have to change something we just need to build it.

We do not claim to have all the answers...we do a lot wrong. We just need to assure ourselves that we have done everything possible to ensure you, the consumer receives a safe, quality, healthy product.

Q: Is Hill Berry Acres organic?

A: HBA is about U of S developed cherries. Some growers may decide to grow their product organic and others may not. HBA supports both. We think there are over-riding "best practices" to growing cherries but in addition to that there are best practices to growing organic cherries. HBA recognizes that and intends to identify and freely share the additional commitments that organic growers must consider.

HBA has not used chemicals or fertilizer in their orchard to date (2012). Brown rot has appeared in some parts of the province. It can be controlled by using a fungicide during the bloom stage. We may have to utilize a fungicide to control this disease in the future realizing if a fungicide is applied it will be months before harvest.

No Hill Berry Acres is not organic.

Q: Is it your aim to create a grower owned organization like the ones in Michigan and B.C. which governs the growers, sets prices, and caps supply etc. or does each individual grower have the ability to create whatever products they desire but have access to the brand label?

A: Grower owned organizations are common in the food world. It take years for them to evolve. And there does not seem to be the momentum in this province to move there...growers cannot invest the huge dollars at this time and they need to find their niche in the marketplace.

The food industry is dominated by huge conglomerates that have invested huge dollars to supply the supermarkets of the world. They know "what" you will buy and even know "when" you will buy it (even before you do). It is their job and the successful ones do it very well. We cannot supply the volumes they require. We can learn from them and work with them to supply a marketplace they cannot.

Q: Hill Berry Acres is developing a processing area. Will these facilities be used for other producers both organic and conventional?

A: Not at this time (2012). We are very concerned about food safety. The entire operation has focused on bringing products into our farm that have little or no risk of contaminating the products you consume. We cannot guarantee other growers meet that standard. As a result we are not advertising to other growers that we would allow their products on our farm. There is too much risk to our 5000 plants and customers that an oversight would contaminate our plants or facilities with diseases, pests, or pathogens.

We have expended a great deal of time and money to mitigate risks to ourselves and our customers. Our goal is not just to meet current regulations for food safety but to exceed them.

Q:What about processing for value added products, can HBA process products for consumers?

A: Our primary product is dehydrated cherries. This product has many benefits for consumers and us. We have experimented with many other fruits and vegetables. These experiments generally occur in our home not in the processing area.

HBA is not in the processing business. We leave that to other experts. But we work closely with processors to create unique and healthy food safe products.

Q: Why not just use a centralized processing facility?

A: Cherries when harvested contain nearly 85% water. We have decided transportation costs make that unfeasible. Also if we get the facilities on our farm we can better control the process every step of the way.

Constructing facilities is not inexpensive. But the costs and risks associated with a centralized facility is something we can control on our farm.

HBA products never come into contact with other growers' products on our farm...we are not saying others do not take care it is just our farm cannot take the risk of one breach in one decade.

Q: Where do you market your product?

A: Our primary market will be to processors of other quality cherry products. A secondary market would have to be the "white tablecloth" market which includes institutions to executive chefs at restaurants. A third and just as important market is you, the retail consumer.

We are attempting to keep our production costs in line. At the same time we want to supply the marketplace package sizes that meet their needs. Packaging and labeling is a major cost. Generally as the package size gets smaller the per unit cost of product goes up...the product may be less valuable than what's around it.

Dehydrated cherries packaged properly can be stored and transported at room temperature. This makes the world our marketplace.

Currently our dehydrated cherries are in fine stores only within Saskatchewan. You can find where by clicking here.

Q: What is the difference between sour and sweet cherries?

A: Sour and sweet are biological designations for cherries. Traditionally sweet cherries have been eaten fresh but do not cook well. That is where sour cherries came in. Sour cherries cook well and do not loose their flavour when heated. Then University of Saskatchewan cherries arrived on the scene. These shrubs (most cherries grow on large trees) tolerate the climate in non-traditional, colder regions...but pests and diseases don't. And they have an intense colour, flavour, and sweetness that traditional sour cherries cannot achieve. In fact, some U of S cherries rival "sweet cherries" in sweetness (we use a BRIX meter and our taste buds to measure it).

An analogy that western people might find useful is - wheat is a major crop here. There are many types (kinds) of wheat: hard red spring, durum, soft white winter, etc. Within each type are many varieties that have specific uses like durum makes good pasta. Sour and sweet cherries are kinds of cherries while within the sour type are the U of S varieties.

Q: Are the U of S Cherries a GMO?

A: No. U of S cherries are a combination of varieties grown in Eastern Europe and Asia that were naturally selected. The cherries produced are savoured by people in these areas and their traits exceed those commonly available to the North American marketplace. The United States and Canada produce about 10% of the world's sour cherries.

Q: How do you remove cherry juice from hands and clothing?

A: Most staining occurs from the food dye added. We do not add anything to our cherries.

Rinse your hands in lemon juice. Washing normally will remove most stains from clothing. Time is of the essence so wipe down the counters early...wash your hands often (it is a good food safe practice anyway).

Q: What makes these a healthy food?

A:  UofS Cherries have a number of attributes. A recent study that CCPI contracted the University to complete looked at common tests. A summary of the report (click to see the article) was prepared by Cora Greer (Christmas Tree farm) and Bob Mason. It tries to explain the various tests conducted in consumer language. The full report soon will be in the "members area" of the CCPI site.

Consumers often see "rich in antioxidants" but no where does it explain 'how rich'. Do you need to eat 10 lbs. of potatos to get your daily requirement of Vitamin C? The report attempts to look at various fruits and their constituents. Cherries are generally healthy and the UofS Cherries lead the pack. Grandma might say that cherries are good for anything inflamatory like gout but we need science to prove our cherries meet that claim with human studies.

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