Grace and Lee have been the owners of Riverbend Plantation – Saskatchewan’s first commercial saskatoon berry farm – since 1996. We were newcomers to the province having moved from Ontario in 1992 when I took a position in Saskatoon. We saw an opportunity when Riverbend’s first owner retired. We had owned a farm together in Ontario so moving back to the country was a natural choice. Also, Grace was already supplying Riverbend Plantation with saskatoon berry chocolate (the same signature chocolate we make today). However, growing a crop we hadn’t heard of four years earlier took some careful planning and a leap of faith. Grace’s skill as a cook and her training in home economics provided a great fit for product development, but the family was still young with a 12, 9 and 6 year old at home and I worked full-time. It’s been 15 years now and we have many lessons to look back on.
The orchard is my primary responsibility, and much has changed from the early days. I remember our first harvest (coincidently the largest the farm had produced to date), working long hours, 7 days a week, week after week with a crew of more than 160 people. We ran out of everything: time, boxes, bags, pallets and patience! After years of renewing the orchard, we can now harvest the crop by machine. Improvements like this have greatly improved the quality of our key ingredient.
After harvest, Grace manages everything from product development to marketing. The early days took the family to fourteen trade shows a year from October to December. These days the marketing focus has moved away from direct selling at trade shows to a distribution system of independent retailers. Our product line is more focused, too.
Great products come from quality ingredients, beginning with the fruit we grow, great recipes and dedicated staff. With all the changes we’ve experienced, this philosophy still holds true.