On the tranquil hillsides of Kamloops, bright orange berries grow aplenty. They root and flourish along the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a place they’ve called home since the 19th century. While not native to Canadian soil, these unique berries are common in Asia and have their roots traced to China. They found their way to the Thompson River Valley after being gifted as a form of natural medicine to Chinese migrant workers who dedicated their lives to excessively working on the railway overseas.
They say these workers died with goji berries in their pockets.
This is a story Danise Breederland tells guests upon arriving at Gojoy: Canada’s one-of-a-kind goji berry farm.
Nestled in the heart of Aldergrove, Gojoy boasts 11 acres of large, deciduous shrubs with clumsy-like branches that are ready to be picked of their oblong-shaped scarlet fruit. And thanks to Danise and her husband Peter, locals can visit their farm in the summertime and pick their own berries, fresh from the branch, to take home (this varies season to season, based on the weather). Still, while Gojoy is in its sixth year of operation, the delicate, sensitive fruit it cultivates is still virtually unknown to many Canadians.
The goji’s first introduction into the western diet was in its dehydrated form, commonly thrown into those very Instagrammable smoothie bowls ordered at Sunday brunch. This, of course, comes from the rise of the superfood—an elite group that the goji berry is a proud member of (along with the likes of quinoa and kale). Not only does the berry provide nutrients that naturally fight common illnesses, eye diseases, and hypertension, but it can also boost energy and improve cardiovascular health.
Despite the benefits, it’s rare even in health-conscious Vancouver to find the berries served fresh. And that’s something Peter, originally from the Netherlands, and Danise, an American, wanted to fix. After meeting in Cyprus, wedding in Portland, and relocating to Langley, the couple acknowledged Canada’s horticultural opportunities and decided to operate their own greenhouse, first growing the goji berry’s fellow nightshade family member, the pepper.
Soon recognizing the virtually nonexistent goji berry market in Canada, Peter purchased a few plants and began to work his magic. Danise describes her husband as a “visionary risk taker,” designing everything on the farm and experimenting with the plants, because no information on growing goji berries was available in English (or Dutch, for that matter). “When we first started, we weren’t sure what the North American market would think about the taste,” Danise notes. “But now we’re hoping all of Canada eventually will get to try our goji berries.”
What is rather beautiful about these little berries is that they mature out of delicate, purple, trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow stamens. It is no wonder the name Gojoy was chosen for the farm; Danise’s middle name is Joy, as is her daughter’s. But it is that feeling of happiness, brought on by the simple pleasure of the berry, that really drives the brand. Goji berries house the same amino acid, known as tryptophan, as turkeys; that satisfying, comforting feeling of collapsing onto the couch after a Thanksgiving feast is also felt after eating the colourful fruit. “Happy makes you feel good,” Danise says with a bright smile.
Stepping out of the rows upon rows of goji shrubs, Danise walks to her car. Opening the trunk, she reveals three containers: one containing goji-mango salsa, another with goji hummus, and the real star: a helping of hot goji and pepper jelly. Gojoy’s goal is to create an experience for its consumers—one that celebrates the berry in its freshest state. But with that being said, once picked, the powerful berry can go bad within days, just as raspberries and strawberries do. So utilizing recipes for spreads and preserves can be a great way to make the goji’s benefits last longer.
The first taste of a goji berry straight off the branch is a rushing sweet surprise. Just like a balloon, the goji pops in your mouth, oozing its sweet nectar. Instantly, the rough, piquant texture of its dehydrated form is long forgotten. This version, so thin and juicy, has Danise even comparing it to the iconic Jelly Belly candy. It’s true what they say: fresh is best.
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