DNA Gardens wins Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association’s “Innovator of the Year” award

DNA Gardens Farm Direct Innovator of the Year 2020

Dave and Arden Delidais are DNA Gardens just north of Elnora.

On their 12 acres of lush and meticulously cultivated orchard, they simultaneously reach for the past and the future, honouring the heritage of the land on which they are located, and crafting innovative new fruit-tree varieties and products. DNA Gardens will soon be featured in the Western Producer, and has just won the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association’s “Innovator of the Year” award for 2020.

DNA Gardens began in 1975 when Dave and Arden got married. The farm is the land that Dave grew up on, and became Arden’s home after she moved from the city to start a life with Dave. Although gardening runs deep in her family, she herself was new to the country life. Looking for something to do on the farm, she planted a Saskatoon orchard, and she and Dave are now officially the oldest long-term commercial grower of Saskatoons in the world, with 19 varieties in their orchard. Len Pearson of Pearson’s Berry Farms began commercially growing Saskatoons in 1969, but has passed-away. The orchard evolved and expanded to include cherries, apples, black currents, strawberries (in the greenhouse for their gelato), chokecherries, raspberries, and rhubarb. Two commercial combines are outfitted to harvest their saskatoons, cherries, and black currants, though UPIK is also a very good option.

Later on, Dave and Arden developed a plant tissue culture business, which put them in contact with plant breeders from across the prairies. They’ve since sold this business, but their experience with plant tissue culture taught them a lot about grafting, and DNA is now the only source of a columnar of high-quality fruit apple called “Treasured Red” in Alberta.

Arden says “We’ve worked quite a bit with the University of Saskatchewan; we’ve helped introduce a lot of their new varieties. I can’t say enough good; they do some phenomenal work out of Saskatchewan. We have a sister columnar to the Treasured Red that’s not been released yet. I hold propagation rights to it and will be bringing it to market in a few years. It just takes time to grow.” Arden has sub-contracted this columnar to a nursery in Saskatoon, which will bring it to market when it is ready.

Customers from Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan come to DNA to purchase the products they bring-in for re-sale, and the plants they graft themselves. DNA has recently started grafting exciting new Russian Pears, and are working on a rootstock trial for apples that includes a bush apple (rather than apple tree), a technique pioneered by Dr. Ieuan Evans.

DNA Wines

The most recent venture that DNA is excited to have embarked on is wine and spirit making, and has just been licensed for a winery and distillery—not an easy feat during a pandemic! There are nine wines that have been made from each fruit crop that is grown at DNA, and four liquors. Arden hopes to add more to the line-up once the operation takes off. Along with a description of the wine, each bottle tells a piece of the history of the farm, from those indigenous to the section 24 land the farm rests on, to the pioneer settlers, Dave’s childhood days, and local history.

The Black Current liquor is called “The Grand Trunk”, after the steam train that crosses the trestle bridge by St. Ann’s Ranch. The label features a photo, graciously supplied by the Trochu Museum. One bottle pictures a sod house, which was one of three located on the farm. The Cherry wine features Dave’s grandfather who came to Canada from France in 1913. These wines are steeped in history, and are “bold and full of character like the pioneers who came west. The Alberta summer storms, chinooks, and extreme temperatures helped develop the full-fruit flavour of our estate orchard.”

Their special edition yellow chokecherry wine is called “Determined” and has a picture from Dave and Arden’s wedding day. The label reads, “City girl meets country boy and the rest is history. Meet the A in DNA Gardens. Arden is a passionate gardener who put down literal roots when she met Dave and planted the fruit orchards in 1975.”

They’ve held one focus group to get feedback on their wines, which was very helpful. They plan to have a few more before they send their wine to market, hopefully in mid-August, at which point they are planning to offer wine-tasting orchard tours.

At this time of year, visitors to DNA gardens can enjoy treats of all kinds, such as farm-fruit-made gelato, cheesecakes, juices, Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, pies (cherry, Saskatoon, and apple, the crust made in-house) and many more creations, all enjoyed on their lovely deck. They have many products available for purchase online as well. They’ve only been value adding for the past couple of years, slowly getting their products out to market, which have been successfully received. Starting in October, they will participate in Red Deer’s year-round Farmer’s Market.

Families can enjoy their educational Nature Trek, which takes visitors on a meandering walk-about with seven stations, written in Dr. Seuss-style, which takes about 45 minutes to complete. Each station teaches visitors about rural life, from duck-boxes to dug-outs! Arden notes that “families do it together and seem to enjoy that.”

This weekend is a special one at the Gardens, as they celebrate the berry that started it all. Their Saskatoon Celebration will happen on the 25th and 26th, with music, food, and free activities.

After 45 years on the farm, Arden says, “we quite like what we’re doing!”