I have always been under the impression that blueberries were somehow superior to all other berries; not only popular because of their taste, but because of their high antioxidant capacity which is essential for maintaining good health. Then I met Henning Jensen and he convinced me otherwise.
Henning runs Yarrow Elderberry Farm, the only producer of flowers and berries in Western Canada. “I chose to grow elderberries because I have a 3-½ acre farm. I ruled out raspberries because they were too labour intensive and blueberries because too many plants are needed to be competitive,” he said. Running the farm is not Henning’s mainstay, though, given that he is, first and foremost, a master carpenter.
Henning was born and raised in Denmark but he immigrated with his family to Canada in 1956. “We landed at Pier 21 in Halifax as most people did back then,” he smiled. His father was no stranger to Canada since he’d logged and farmed in the country more than 20 years earlier. However, during the early ’30s Canada was gripped by the depression and times were tough so in 1934, he returned to Denmark and started up a furniture factory. “He also opened up a driving school and car rental business which was run by my mother but after awhile he got tired of paying 71 per cent income tax which led to him to sell off everything and we returned to Canada,” he said.
The family settled in West Vancouver. After graduation, Henning went to BCIT and received a diploma in forestry. “I always worked with dad in the carpentry business which is what got me through BCIT,” he smiled. For about 1-½ years, Henning worked as a beachcomber and even had a bit part in the long-running Canadian comedy-drama, the Beachcombers. “For a couple of years, I was also in the maintenance department at Capilano College. I saved up enough money to buy a house in Yarrow. Ted Holtby and I had both gone to BCIT together and we became good friends. I helped him build a house so I’d come out here quite often and then one day, I decided to move out here,” he said.
As the owner of acreage, Henning had to determine what he could grow. “You have to think outside of the box. I planted 264 trees in 2000 which allowed me to qualify as a grower and with farm status, I was also able to cut down the amount of tax that I paid,” he said.
Elderberry is actually a wind pollinated small tree, with an abundance of delicate white flowers emerging as berry clusters. Sometimes it is propagated as an ornamental shrub.
“The biggest work that I have is pruning them in the winter. The trees flower in May and the berries can be harvested by mid-August. By September, they’ve basically petered off,” he said.
Henning concedes that elderberries are better known in Europe where they can be found in an assortment of food and beverage products. “They are a great way to prevent colds since they give your immune system a boost. You can use both the flowers and berries and there are a variety of items that can be produced including ale, juice, cordial, jam, jelly, tea, syrup and some dry the berries and put them on things like fruit pizza. There are quite a few Europeans that come out to the farm.” Elderberries are still a novelty to many North Americans but this tiny black fruit yields an abundance of juice for its small size. There have been many experiments on the benefits of elderberries and modern research holds that this berry may have many healing properties.
Although he’s the lone grower in these parts, Henning keeps up with trends in the industry by regularly attending conferences in the US and Europe as well as consulting with agricultural experts and doing on-going research on the benefits of the fruit. “I have also met the head of the largest elderberry co-op in the world which is located in Austria,” he mentioned.
Ideally, he would like to see more elderberry growers and processors setting up in B.C. but for now, Henning will continue to operate his farm; a place where he is able to put his land into production and where he has the ability to drive his passion for this super berry!