One local woman is mapping the way for wild berry picking in St. Albert.
Becky Shepherd, 29, has been putting together a Google map featuring all the fruit-bearing plants in St. Albert.
“Fruit is really expensive and this is a way for people to pick free food,” she says. “Having that sort of thing available is great.”
Shepherd posted the map on Facebook, asking for locals’ insider knowledge on other wild fruit locations.
The map currently has eight different pinned places bursting with saskatoon berries, Nanking cherries, pear trees and apple trees.
“The more likely people know about it, the more the fruit will get used,” she says. “I’ve had people say ‘I went there yesterday, or last week, or last year and I picked and made jams and jellies with my kids’. That’s what I would rather be hearing than this fruit is just sitting there and not being used.”
Fruit picking has been a life-long passion for Shepherd. She spent her youth skipping through trails, picking and eating wild saskatoon berries off the bush. When she got older her mother taught her the art of canning.
Throughout the years she noticed that most of the berries would fall to the ground and wither away uneaten towards the end of the season.
Determined to bring the community together and share her knowledge on the wild fruit growing throughout the city, she decided to put the map online.
“Nobody is using this fruit, I guess the birds eat them but there’s a lot, so it’s just going to waste,” she says. “There are people in our community who could use these resources too.”
Jim Hole, owner of Hole’s Greenhouses, says fresh berry picking is one way to build community while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
“I think any time you’re picking the wild ones, it’s very nutritious and you’re getting exercise,” he says. “Equally there’s the physical and mental health benefits of getting out and there’s some economic benefits to it.”
Hole grew up on a farm on the outskirts of St. Albert. He says the farm would naturally grow chokecherries, pin cherries, saskatoon berries, high-bush cranberries and Nanking cherries.
“Growing up I spent a lot of time just grabbing fruit off the trees and shrubs as they grew on,” he says. “I’d drive by the shelter belt on the tractor and I’d reach out and grab a handful of chokecherries and pop them in my mouth.”
He cautions that prior to hitting the trails, people should read up on what bushes are edible and what ones to stay clear of.
“I think most people are familiar with the different trees and shrubs and what ones are chokecherries and saskatoon berries. But if there’s any doubt, don’t eat it,” he says.
The map has different markers pointing to locations of various fruit. Each marker has information about the type of fruit, what to look for, in season information and links to Wikipedia and recipes.
There are currently three saskatoon berry bushes, two apple trees, one pear tree, one Nanking cherry and the Elmer S. Gish Food Forest on the map.
One saskatoon berry bush is located at Wild Rose Elementary School, another just down the street next to the Grandin Clubhouse. The third bush is located along the river trail between St. Albert Trail and Boudreau Road.
For those who know their apples, they can find crab apples along Bellerose Drive. Some of the apple trees planted by the city are ornamental, so it’s recommended that pickers do their research beforehand.
“The ornamental ones aren’t really edible. There so small that there’s really nothing you can do with them. The crab apples are bigger,” she says.
For those who want regular apples and want to go care-free picking, they can head over to Parkwood Drive.
The Elmer S. Gish Food Forest is located at Elmer S. Gish School where a variety of community vegetables and fruits can be found.
For fresh pears, hike over to Naples Park. Pears aren’t ready for picking yet, but should be ready by September.
Nanking cherries are located along Villeneuve Road, by Hogan Road. These bushes are right off the road so be careful with parking.
So far only Shepherd can edit the map for privacy reasons. People wanting to add to the map can send her a message via Facebook.
To view the map go to: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=14WTWtQyAeG1dH58soFiYlBQ6NOg&ll=53.64083438420303%2C-113.55354487482913&z=12