By Guy K. Ames, NCAT Horticulture Specialist

At right: Juneberry fruits look quite like medium-sized blueberries, but the juneberry is actually much more closely related to apples and pears. Photo: Guy Ames, NCAT.

Of the many names for this plant, “chuckleberry” is certainly my favorite, but I’ve only seen it in writing, never heard it spoken. Around the Ozarks where I live “sarvis” or “sarvisberry” seems to be the most commonly spoken, at least among the old-timers. If a name is known at all for this berry among the newcomers to the Ozarks, “service” replaces “sarvis.”  “Sarvis,” I think, is presumed to be a thick southern linguistic variant of “service.” “Shadblow” and “shadbush” seem to me to be the weirdest names, but they are documented and widely used at least in coastal regions. (Shad is a once-common fish whose annual spawning runs up the rivers of colonial New England happened to coincide with the early springtime blooming of this tree.)

What’s in a Name

Other names include saskatoon, juneberry, blueberry tree, chuckley pear, and, of course, the Latin binomials of which there are several because within its genus, Amelanchier, there are several species. All of the species produce berries nearly indistinguishable from the others. And all these names, except and very notably the saskatoon, pass over the Native American names, which were presumably many because Amelanchier grows over a wide area and commended itself to all who ate it.

When I first moved to the Ozarks in 1971-72, the sarvisberry trees (as I first learned to call them) were the first bloomers that I would notice on the dull gray wooded hills of the Ozarks in February. In their profusion of bright, white blooms they were a welcome harbinger of spring. One probably erroneous explanation for the origin of “serviceberry” is that the blooming of the tree indicated that the soil was thawed enough to dig graves and hold services for the folks who didn’t make it through the winter.

Although it is improbable, the funereal explanation persists and I rather enjoy it. Like Persephone returning from Hades every spring, it presents a beautiful and poignant reminder of the rebirth part of the never-ending cycle of life and death.

Speaking of death, a juneberry pie or cobbler is to die for! When eaten fresh, the juneberry has a detectable almond flavor that comes from its small, edible seeds. But when cooked into pies or cobblers, that almond aroma becomes pronounced and will fill a kitchen and spill deliciously into the house!

Mistaken Identity

A juneberry bush full of white blossoms.

A juneberry bush in bloom. Photo: Margo Hale, NCAT.

When you first see a juneberry fruit you might have a hard time distinguishing it from a medium-sized blueberry. However, the juneberry, technically a pome fruit, is much more closely related to apples and pears than to blueberry. A few intrepid grafters have even had limited success grafting pear wood onto juneberry (graft compatibility is an indirect proof of relatedness).

Sometimes the juneberry is referred to as a tree, sometimes a bush. That difference is not just in the eye of the beholder. The species native to the Ozarks, A. arborea, like the species name suggests (arborea = tree), assumes the form of a small tree. The species that I prefer for fruit production and endemic to most of the Northeast United States, A. canadensis, is a multi-stemmed bush usually around 12 ft. tall. The saskatoon, A. alnifolia, native to the Northern Plains and into the foothills of the Canadian Rockies looks like a shorter version of A. canadensis. It usually tops out around 6-8 ft. Regardless of species, the fruit looks and mostly tastes the same.

Juneberry’s Uses

Though the Native Americans used the juneberry wherever it grew (pemmican was one way the juneberry was preserved and used), until relatively recently it has not been pressed into commercial service. That is beginning to change. The University of Saskatchewan is conducting research and breeding to commercialize the saskatoon, A. alnifolia. And in the United States, Cornell University Extension has done some limited research and promoted juneberries as an alternative to the persnickety blueberry. In Canada there is a nascent saskatoon industry marketing frozen and canned saskatoons as well as wines, jams and jellies made from saskatoons.

Whatever they’re called, they are easy to grow. They’re not nearly as finicky as blueberries regarding soil pH and watering. And, if you get the right species for your area, you’re not likely to have any disease problems (I and other growers in the Ozarks have found A. alnifolia or saskatoon to be susceptible to cedar-apple rust). And though they bloom very, very early, the blooms never seem to be damaged by late spring freezes and frosts. I have juneberries year after year, often in years that other fruit crops are wiped out by weather or disease.

A woman holds a basket of ripe juneberries in her left hand and a basket of ripe mulberries in her right hane.

Juneberries (left) and mulberries ripen at the same time—in May, not June! Photo: Guy Ames, NCAT.

As with most small berries, the commercial viability of juneberries will revolve around harvesting costs. In Canada, researchers hope to find techniques and cultivars that will lead to the uniform ripening that allows mechanical harvesting. Elsewhere and until that happens, individual farmers will have to figure out ways to efficiently pick and effectively market the fruit to make juneberry production a viable money-making proposition. But that should not preclude gardeners and homesteaders from planting these easy-to-grow and highly productive berry plants in their gardens for home use.

Related ATTRA Resources

Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks

A Recap of the Young Farmer National Leadership Convergence

By Luke Freeman, NCAT Horticulture Specialist

Photo at right: Luke enjoying the Colorado snow!

In November I attended the National Leadership Convergence in Boulder, Colorado, hosted by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). This was a fantastic opportunity to meet other young farmer leaders from across the country and learn about the common issues young and beginning farmers face. This post is long overdue, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the Convergence. I also wanted to share some ideas on how to support beginning farmers.

This was the fifth Annual National Leadership Convergence. The event brought 120 farmers and 19 NYFC staff members together from across the country. It was truly amazing to see a diverse group of so many young farmer leaders in one place. The group represented over half of the states in the union. I have been involved with the Arkansas Young Farmers Coalition since 2017 and was happy to meet other chapter members from other states in the Southeast – Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Young farmer leaders from across the country gathered in Boulder, CO. Photo by Erin McCarley, 2019.

Acknowledging the Past, Focusing on the Future

Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists gave a powerful keynote address, “Why the Future of Food and Agriculture Cannot Resemble the History of Food and Agriculture.” He described how the history of agriculture in the United States is stained by injustice and exploitation. But he returned to this message: We cannot make decisions about the past – only the future.

Salvador explained the economics principle that the factors of production include land, labor, and capital; those who own or have access to these resources accumulate wealth. The history of agriculture in America is littered with examples of land being forcibly taken from indigenous people groups. Labor has been appropriated through slavery or exploited through immigration policies. Access to capital has been denied to communities of color. These uncomfortable aspects of our history have caused disparities in wealth accumulation and land ownership, resulting in unequal opportunities for young people who wish to farm.

Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists delivering the keynote. Photo by Erin McCarley, 2019.

Salvador emphasized that if we wish to create an equitable food system we must perform agriculture differently going forward. Applying this framework to the next generation of farmers means we would insure that beginning farmers have access to land, that they receive fair compensation for their labor, and that they can access capital. I’ve interacted with many young and aspiring farmers. I can confirm that access to land and capital are two of the biggest hurtles for new farmers to overcome. Ensuring equal access to land and capital is an important part of creating a more equitable agricultural system.

Services and Programs for Young and Beginning Farmers

I also attended a workshop on business services offered by NYFC and local chapters. NYFC has put a lot of energy into developing resources on land access for young and beginning farmers. NYFC hopes to continue to expand the scope of its business services for young and beginning farmers. During the breakout session, members of other local chapters shared successful business support programs they have led for farmers in their regions. The Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition hosted a business accelerator where beginning farmers met with a long-range planner, tax advisor, and loan officer. Other chapters have collected wholesale and retail price lists to give beginning farmers examples of how to price their produce. Chapters also have connected beginning farmers with accounting and business planning support at local universities.

Further Information

At NCAT our agriculture specialists often host trainings for beginning farmers on whole farm planning, recordkeeping, accessing USDA resources, and applying for farm loans. Over the years we have developed dozens of resources for beginning farmers on running the business side of a farm. These are available on our ATTRA Marketing and Business topic page.

One of my take-aways from the conference was that young and beginning farmers continue to need business training and farm planning services. The diverse group of young farmers emerging today needs these resources to help them access the federal programs created to serve them. Fewer barriers can lead to more equitable distribution of land and capital among new farmers.

Are you a beginning farmer who has questions about marketing, business, or production? Please don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the other ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture specialists. You can call our help line at 800-346-9140 or email askanag@ncat.org. We’re here to help!

NCAT, the United States Botanic Garden, and City Blossoms are proud to release their new Greenhouse Manual: An Introductory Guide for Educators.

Greenhouse Manual CoverThe manual is an easy-to-use guide designed to help educators with access to educational greenhouses. The manual has answers to questions about:

  • planting gardens,
  • growing for Farm to School programs, and
  • integrating plant science into an existing curriculum.

The goal of the manual is to help educators maximize the potential of new and existing school greenhouses. It opens with a basic explanation of greenhouses. There are explanations on how to integrate greenhouse use into classroom and out-of-classroom learning. It contains lesson plans and information on:

  • greenhouse operation,
  • growing plants,
  • starting seeds,
  • plant nutrition,
  • disease and pest management,
  • greenhouse budgeting, and
  • succession planting.

“NCAT has been thrilled to bring our expertise to the efficient and curriculum-based use of educational greenhouses,” said Andy Pressman, NCAT Northeast Regional Director and contributing author to the manual.

The greenhouse manual can be downloaded, for free, at https://attra.ncat.org/product/usbg-greenhouse-manual/.