Blueberry’s golden grower
By James Careless
Jasey-Jay Anderson is an Olympic gold medallist and Quebec blueberry farmer
By James Careless
On February 27, 2010, seven-time World Cup champion snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson realized his Olympic dream. Competing in the men’s parallel giant slalom snowboard competition at Cypress Mountain, Anderson out-raced the number one-ranked Benjamin Karl of Austria to take the gold medal. This was no mean feat: Karl went into the final with a 0.76 second advantage over Anderson, 0.76 being the time he had beaten him by in the first heat. To win, Jasey-Jay had to make up this time and better, which he did by an extra third of a second.
“I’m shocked,” Anderson said after winning the gold. “I had so much to make up, and in these conditions (the course was foggy and wet), it’s pretty much impossible.”
Anderson’s 2010 Olympic victory was not just a triumph of speed, but of tenacity. This was the Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, snowboarder’s fourth time at the Olympics. Even though he had won many times on the World Cup circuit, medalling at the Olympic Games had always alluded him – until then.
Tenacity is very much at the heart of Anderson’s character. So is a love for farming, even though the closest he got to it as a child was his family’s sugar shack.
“I just love agriculture,” says Anderson. “When you farm, you create something tangible, just as my dad does tapping trees or pursuing his career building log houses. Snowboarding doesn’t create anything, much as I love the sport. But farming truly does.”
The lure of blueberries
At 35 years of age, Anderson is a “grand old man” of snowboarding. That’s why he had originally planned to retire six years ago before deciding to keep pursuing his Olympic dream. (Anderson has now officially hung up his board after winning a 27th World Cup victory in La Molina, Spain, in March 2010).
Mindful that a retired athlete needs to have a job, he and his wife Manon purchased 100 acres of fallow farmland a kilometre from their Lake Superior (close to Mt. Tremblant) home.
“It was a 40-year regrowth of spruce and fir trees, with a bit of birch,” Anderson says. “We cleared four acres of it and planted blueberries. Luckily there are a lot of trees in the area, so doing this didn’t have much impact on the local environment.”
Talk with him for a few minutes, and one fact becomes crystal clear – Anderson is as passionate about blueberries as he is about snowboarding. “Blueberries are like candy that’s so good for you,” he explains. “They have all kinds of medicinal properties, grow well in our soil and make a real difference to people’s health. I think that growing blueberries and supplying them to our local residents is something that really does something good. I feel that I am doing my part for society.
“Besides, blueberries provide such a wide range of flavours,” he adds. “Their flavours vary from variety to variety. They are truly rewarding to grow – and to eat!”
Keeping it basic
Anderson and Manon believe in organic farming. This is why their blueberry operation is built using hardy highbush varieties such as Patriot, Northern Blue, Northland, Chippewa and Polaris.
“They are well suited to our rocky, acidic soil,” Anderson says. “This said, these varieties have differing degrees of drought tolerance. Northland goes berserk in wetter areas whereas Patriot prefers it drier.”
The Anderson’s blueberry operation is not high-tech. The only fertilizer they use is blood meal – no fungicides – and weeds are controlled using mulch.
“I do have a tractor that I use for spreading the mulch, but some of the rows still have large boulders that block the way,” he says. “So our operation is very labour intensive. Most of the work is done by hand, such as pruning and harvesting.”
There are no outbuildings on this land, and the tractor is the only heavy machinery that they use. Although there is a well with a generator-driven pump, Anderson prefers to rely on local rainfall for irrigation.
“Most of what we have planted is very drought-resistant, so I only irrigate when things get really dry,” he says.
Keeping up with the chores
Originally, Anderson had intended to work the blueberry farm from the time the snow melted to the time the white stuff returned. But the demands of the World Cup circuit – “we train and race all over the globe,” he says – have kept him out of the fields.
In an effort to reduce the workload at the blueberry farm, and to curtail damage and fruit losses, Anderson has erected deer fences. He is also experimenting with netting, since local birds have been feasting on his crops for years.“In the past few years, my wife Manon has kept the farm going,” Anderson says. “But right now she’s at home taking care of our daughters Jora (4) and Jy (3). We kept them out of daycare this year due to swine flu; they were not vaccinated and we didn’t want to risk them picking something up. So getting the blueberry patch running this season is proving to be quite a challenge, since I am starting up a snowboarding company of my own.”
“The birds do leave us a fair amount, but the area where netting has been set up has provided us with a much better yield,” he notes.
The challenge is to find ways to deter the birds without having to net the entire four acres. Fortunately, Anderson thinks he may have found a solution: People. “We are opening a you-pick operation this season, which should help,” he explains. “Having people out in the field picking their own fruit helps keep the birds away. Perhaps we should also get a few cats.”
Currently, Anderson and his wife sell their produce to a local farmer down the road, who resells the fruit locally.
“He’s an 84-year-old farmer who likes to do things his own way,” Anderson laughs. “I have learned a lot from watching his experiments, including how different varieties respond to various degrees of watering.”
Right now, the Andersons plan to stick with their four-acre operation. This will allow Manon to keep up with the kids, and Jasey-Jay to pursue his new snowboarding venture. His goal is to design equipment that will make snowboarding more accessible to the general public, and spread its overall popularity.
This said, this gold medallist plans to put in at least a day a week this season on his blueberry patch, with this workload increasing in future years. “In the long term, Manon will be able to do much more when the children go to school,” he says.
As for opening up more land, that will depend on the success of the current blueberry patch and Anderson’s ability to keep the birds from getting a share of his profits.
Challenges aside, Anderson is committed to being an organic fruit farmer, despite his years in the World Cup spotlight.
“I love creating something real,” he concludes. “That’s why I love raising blueberries.”