June 3, 2009, Shelbourne, Ont. – In a revival of sorts, fresh rhubarb
is getting the attention of the eat local folks, says fourth generation
grower Bill French.
June 3, 2009, Shelbourne, Ont. – In a revival of sorts, fresh rhubarb is getting the attention of the eat local folks, says fourth generation grower Bill French.
“It’s getting a little more popular and we’ve had quite a bit of interest in the past two years and increasing sales on the fresh market,” says French, whose farm north of Shelburne, Ont., produces the bulk of the crop for the province.
Rhubarb, a native of Northern Asia, was once only used for medicinal purposes. Popular in England, the wave of British immigrants in the 1800s and 1900s brought rhubarb cuttings to grow in their Canadian gardens.
It is a member of the buckwheat family and is a vegetable, but because it is used in pies, cobblers, cakes and muffins, most people think it is a fruit, and a tart one at that.
The thick celery-like stalks can be up to 60 centimetres long. They are the only part of the plant that can be eaten because the fan-sized leaves are poisonous – they contain toxic oxalic acid.
At one time, rhubarb was grown for processing and sold to pie companies, says Elaine Roddy, crops specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
“But just with competitive forces, like so many of our other processed crops, it has moved offshore,” she says. “It’s an expensive crop to produce and it’s hard to compete with developing countries.
“It’s too bad because one of the big varieties is Canadian Red and we don’t grow as much as we used to.”
One the largest growers of rhubarb for processing in Canada, French says his operation handled “over one million pounds a year.
“The business has gone to Poland where they have a large land base to grow the crops and workers’ wages run around $1.50 per hour U.S.”
Roddy says that there aren’t many growers cultivating just rhubarb.
“It tends to be a very small part of many other fruits and vegetables that growers do. It might be something like six to eight rows of something he does for a few weeks in the spring.”
Roddy adds that fresh rhubarb tends to get sold at the farm gate or farmers’ markets.
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