Lead author: Thaddeus McCamant, Specialty Crops Instructor, Central Lakes College, Staples, MN
Contributing author: Sadie Schroeder, Conservation Coordinator at Sauk County Conservation
Most of Minnesota lies within the USDA hardiness zones 3 and 4, and gardeners often wish they could grow a larger variety of fruit. Cold winters kill or harm trees and branches, while short growing seasons prevent certain crops from properly maturing. In spite of these shortcomings, a surprising diversity of new and unusual crops can grow here. Some crops grow better here than in surrounding states, and the number of Zone 3 and 4 crops available to plant is increasing. In some cases, crops that were forgotten by older generations are being rediscovered; while in other cases, cold hardy varieties and species are being introduced from Eastern Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, some native plants with commercial potential are still being domesticated. A major driving force behind the growth in new crops is the recently discovered and rediscovered health benefits of berries and other fruits.
Our current base of knowledge for these emerging crops is extremely small compared to crops like apples or strawberries. Most of what we know about emerging crops comes from people who experiment in their own yards or farms. Innovative growers are constantly discovering new varieties or developing new ways of growing emerging crops. Most of the emerging crops covered in this publication currently have a small market. Many crops would benefit from breeding work to improve fruit quality or disease resistance. All these crops require labor-intensive management. Few of these crops are suitable for the fresh market, so they must be processed into value-added products like juices, jam, or jelly. The economic potential for these crops will increase as innovative farmers, food entrepreneurs, and researchers discover or re-learn better ways to plant, manage, harvest, process, and market these crops. Investment in an emerging fruit crop could pay good dividends down the road.