Goji Berries Provide New Opportunities for Sonoma County Agriculture

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Goji Berries Provide New Opportunities for Sonoma County Agriculture

Article and Photo by Rachel LaFranchi, Farm News Production Editor

Published November 1, 2015

Goji berries are small berries grown on shrubs and are all harvested by hand.

Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are a small red berry that originated in China. They are thought to have been brought to the United States more than 150 years ago by workers of the transcontinental railroad and many of the plants ended up in Utah. The berries are known for their rich nutritional value and have been associated with various health benefits. The berries can be eaten raw, cooked or dried and are often used in herbal teas, medicines and juices.

When Jay Jensen, CEO of the grapevine nursery Novavine, heard that Tibor Fishchl was looking for a space to grow goji plants, it seemed like the right fit. Jenson could use existing greenhouses to house the plants during the months when he didn’t have them full of vines.

Fishchl, CEO of Goji Farm USA, had already been producing a goji berry product called Phyto-Brew, an organic and caffeine free goji tea made with berries grown in Asia. 
With both partners bringing something to the table, Fishchl and Jensen went into business together further developing Goji Farm USA into a business growing fresh berries in Sonoma County.

Goji Farm USA currently has more than 8,000 plants that Fishchl brought back from Utah. Over the next year, they hope to expand their production to 50,000 - 100,000 plants, said Fishchl.

Currently, Goji Farm USA is still in the research and development phase with their plants and products. As a large scale goji berry farm is new to Sonoma County, the partners are still figuring out the best growing conditions for the berries including how much chill time they need and how many times a year they can harvest the berries.

The berries are certified organic, which has made the research stage slightly more challenging. Another major challenge for Jenson and Fishchl has been harvesting and the extensive amount of time this takes. The berries are picked by hand, and because all the bushes don’t have fruit at the same time, they have to go through, pick the fruit, freeze it and then pick again two weeks later.

Despite the fact that they are still figuring out best growing practices, Jensen said the berries seem to be growing well in Sonoma County and they expect them to continue to thrive.

The next stage in their process is developing the drink Goji Farm USA will begin to make once they have more plants. They’ve hired a drink creator to help them with this process, and hope to create a product that tastes great but maintains the nutritional capacity of goji.

Fishchl said they aim to combine elements of the fresh fruit and a leaf extract of the goji plant which will create a broader flavor.

Alexandra Devarenne, a food/recipe creator has committed to figuring out best uses for the goji berry. She said that although the berries are at first different from what we’re used to eating, she now enjoys eating them, especially knowing their nutritional benefits.
Devanenne said one of her favorite recipes is using goji berries on pizza, particularly with a white sauce. The goji berries can also provide flavor to vanilla ice cream. Devanenne said she has also used goji berries for salsa and sometimes eats them with cereal.

For more information about Goji Farm USA and Phyto-Brew visit www.gojifarmusa.com.

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