A conversation with Anil and Smita, co-founders of the Very Mulberry brand and Habitera Farms, an 80-acre commercial mulberry farm in the Bay Area of California. Habitera Farms is the only large-scale commercial mulberry farm in the United States today. It opened for business this spring and operates primarily as a U-Pick farm.
JASON FISCHBACH 0:00
This is a podcast about new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on The Cutting Edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
We found just this unbelievable response from the community which surprised us. We were hoping to get you know, one to 200 people on our first weekend. We hosted 1200. The second weekend went to 3000 and then ramped all the way up in the subsequent weekends to more than 6, 7, 8000 people from more than 40-50 countries and all of them had a story to tell. It’s been incredible.
Steffen Mirsky 0:56
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Cutting Edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. My name is Steffen Mirsky, and I’m an Outreach Specialist for emerging crops with UW Madison Extension. I’m very excited to bring you the second part of our series on mulberries where I talk with Anil and Smita, co-founders, along with Anil’s brother, of the brand Very Mulberry and Habitera Farms, an 80 acre commercial mulberry farm in the Bay Area of California that just opened for business this spring and operates primarily as a u-pick farm. Habitera Farms is the only large scale commercial mulberry farm in the United States today. The story that Anil and Smita share in this episode embodies a passion, gratitude and an entrepreneurial spirit that left me inspired and eager to share with you all. I’ll admit, after recording these two episodes, I become pretty enamored with mulberries and a true believer in their untapped potential. I’m excited to bring greater attention to the efforts of Anil and Smita, as well as Eliza and Scott, in the hopes that more people will discover, as Anil put it, the miracle of mulberries, I hope you enjoy.
So it’s great to be part of this podcast. I’m Anil Gawande, I’m originally from India, I was born and brought up in Delhi moved to the US when I was 17. And I’m a serial entrepreneur, I have started a few companies in the tech space, but all throughout and also invested in many others all throughout my life. You know, not just in India, but when I moved here, I’ve been passionate about fruits and vegetables. And I think that love continued, which is what led us to the farm.
Thank you for having us Steffen. So I’m My name is Smita. I am actually also from India, from a different part from where Anil is , and we met here in California. I have a background in finance. And I am an active investor. I have studied a lot of new crops just out of interest, like avocados and pomegranates, you know how they were introduced. And when I came across mulberries a few years ago, they just seem to have a lasting impact on me. In fact, every single year when I tasted them, I was more and more excited. I learned a lot about them. A lot of you know about the nutrition about their tastes, textures. So that’s what led us to start this together along with Anil, younger brother Gotham. So there were three of us who originally started this farm.
Steffen Mirsky 3:47
And did either of you have experience growing or eating mulberries growing up?
Well, I have a lot of experience in eating mulberries. I didn’t have any and growing them. There was a tree in my neighborhood in Delhi, that was a very tall mulberry tree that I would get mulberries from neighbor’s tree and that, you know, when I first moved to the US, I was looking for mulberries here. And I couldn’t find them, which is what led me to plant a few mulberry trees and they happen to be the same variety that we are now growing at the farm, the Himalayan mulberries about 15 years ago. And you know, as the trees grew and had mulberries we had friends and family over and they kept calling us the year after saying are they here yet? So I realized that you know everybody, it’s not just me but a lot of other people seem to love them as well.
So same thing here, I didn’t, you know, we didn’t have a tree per se but I remember eating mulberries as a child and they will never really sold commercially also, you know, you would just get a little packet of mulberries from a neighbor or, you know, friends, but we could never really buy them. And I was always, I always thought, why can’t we just buy mulberries or get mulberries because to me, it was a very easy to love fruit. So when and you know, we tasted Himalayan Mulberries, along with a lot of other mulberries and Anil had one has a massive tree in his backyard, and the mulberries were delicious. So that is what led us to research and explore this whole area of mulberries a lot more seriously.
Steffen Mirsky 5:40
So did you find out an answer to your question of why don’t more people grow mulberries?
I mean, I think mulberries are as as amazing fruit or berry as they are, they’re very, very delicate. They bruise easily, they need to be put into cold storage right away from the time, the minute you harvest them, you know, you have to get the heat out of the berry quickly. By putting it in forced air cooling and then storing it in, you know, in a refrigerator. And then even as you transport them, to the customers or to grocery stores where they might be sold, they have to be done in cold storage trucks. And the shelf life is not more than, let’s say five to seven days, from the time they’re picked. I mean, they can last a little bit longer in perfect conditions. But, you know, five days is a good number to look at. So I think that’s probably the biggest reason of course, there’s also awareness and you know, the way the farming industry, we’re new to farming. But as we’ve made some friends in the farming business, we realized that it’s a it’s a fairly conservative community. And I can understand why because, you know, if you put trees in the ground, that’s a significant investment. And it’ll take two, three years, before you find out if that investment is going to ROI. So I mean, you know, I understand. So because of that, even people that are now starting to grow mulberries, they’re doing it on very small acreage, just being from Silicon Valley, and a tech entrepreneur, all of us having that background, we decided that, you know, it would work and we planted, instead of a half an acre or an acre, we planted them on almost, you know, 80 plus acres.
So I think one more reason why it’s very challenging is also the fruit has to be color picked, you know, it’s a tree, it’s not a shrub, and to pick a single mulberry, which is ripe from a tree, which has a lot of unripe mulberries, day in and day out is also significantly difficult. It’s very expensive, labor intensive. And as Anil said, it takes a long time for a tree to actually grow and start yielding mulberries, you know, so there’s, like other berries and several other fruits.
Steffen Mirsky 8:18
Yeah, I definitely want to get into some of the details about how you address some of the challenges with growing mulberries. But I want to ask first, to the best of your knowledge, how many other commercial mulberry farms are there in the United States for the fruit?
Smita, do you want to take that first?
Yeah, so I think there are some small commercial farms that don’t exclusively produce mulberries. They have mulberries like, you know, 10 trees, 50 trees, an acre, five, four or five acres, but as a part of other trees or the crops that they grow. To our knowledge, we think we are the only ones that are doing commercial mulberries on this scale in the United States. In fact, I would think even in the entire world, there are commercial farms that produce small berries for the sake of drying them, and selling them for you know as dried mulberries, but for a u-pick experience, and especially for this variety, Himalayan mulberries, we have not come across a single one, especially of our size.
Steffen Mirsky 9:31
So you guys really are trailblazers. That must have made the process of starting the business really challenging. Can you just talk a little bit about the research that you did prior to planting and where did you go to do the research? What did you learn? What kind of resources did you find out there for doing this kind of venture?
Well, as I had mentioned, I planted a few mulberry trees in my backyard about 15 years ago. So in one sense, you can think of the R&D already starting with that tree initial tree. We call it the Mother Tree being planted. And since then I planted about six or seven more. And as I started to look at how those trees were doing, I planted some other varieties. We started to look around to learn more about mulberries, not just online, but also in places like UC Davis, which has a large 80 acre plus, let’s call it experimental farm, which has, I think, like 60-70, varieties of mulberries that they grow. So we went out there and met with some of the folks there. And, you know, Smita did a lot of research online, looking at what information there was available. And you know, interestingly, mulberries have been grown in Asia for quite some time, not at a commercial scale, but they’ve been grown silkworms, obviously, you know, mulberry leaves. So we found a lot of interesting data on mulberries and their properties and why they were such an incredible fruit. In all this research, especially some of the information we got from Asia.
And a lot of it, we actually had to figure out as we started, for instance, you know, this tree has a lifespan of a human. And it can also grow to be 100 foot tall tree. So how do you get mulberries off a tree, which is a tall, even if you prune it, it’s the nature of the trees to be tall. So we actually over time, you know, experimenting on his tree in his backyard, try different methods of harvest, and try different methods of you know, storage. And the one thing we did learn very quickly is that you have to keep them cool. As soon as you get them off the tree, they need to be cooled. So that’s something that we borrowed from the berry industry. It’s a very well known fact for all berries, not just mulberries, but regarding how to pluck them and harvest them from the tree on that we had to do a lot of R&D.
Steffen Mirsky 12:24
Okay, can you talk about how you decided to grow the Himalayan Purple Mulberry as opposed to the dozens or perhaps even hundreds of other varieties out there? And like, what makes what made this one special?
Well, I mean, the biggest reason is taste. You know, there’s lots of mulberries as you said, in fact, over 100 varieties, but some of them are tart. Other ones are have flavor, but it’s not that great, or it’s relatively bland. As we tasted all these different mulberries, and we were trying to compare to, you know, some of the mulberries we had back when we were growing up as kids. This particular one just stood out. It wasn’t shades of grey, it was basically black and white, like this one was just so much more flavorful, juicy, you know, and also, it’s fairly long, you know, in, in size, it’s usually a few inches longer than can be longer than you know, your finger. This became the obvious choice in our minds, the Himalayan Mulberry, just stood head and shoulders above the rest that we had tried.
Steffen Mirsky 13:43
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit more about the the actual farm and how you grow them. You said 80 acres, and the trees can grow up to 100 feet. I think, if I got that, right, so what so just kind of paint a picture what is what is your orchard look like? You know, how far are the trees spaced apart from each other? How wide are the rows? And then how on earth do you harvest fruit from 100 foot tree?
Well, we’ve gotten really good at climbing. No, no. We, we have you know about a, we’re experimenting with the number of trees per acre, we have tried planting of 18 by 18, 18 by nine. So we could still leave a 10 foot space for you know, just tractors and other equipment. But we’re also looking at some high density experiments where we might plant as many as 5,6,7, 800 trees per acre. And but I would say the bulk of, we have over 10,000 trees on the farm now and we’ll probably add a few more and you know, our sense, like we obviously you know, you can’t let them grow to a anywhere close to 100 feet. So we prune them and keep them no more than 18 to 20 feet at best, maybe a little lower. We’re now experimenting with other ways to prune them. But the way most of the trees that we have at Habitera Farms mulberry orchard, are in that like sub 20 feet, 15 to 20 foot range in height.
Steffen Mirsky 15:33
Can you just talk a little bit more about how you prune them how you keep them to that height? Is it similar to save like pruning an apple tree or?
I mean, we you know, we we do a lot of hand pruning and like shaping the tree. But we’ve also used some mechanical pruning where we just topped the trees off and then, you know, kind of prune them to shape the tree, as far as the sides of the tree goes. You know, our sense is that there’s a lot of experimenting and R&D that’s going on, we are also knew, but as we looked at best practices and methods of pruning, we realized there weren’t a lot of them. So to your point, we are trailblazing and learning and, you know, looking at other crops and seeing what works well, what doesn’t work well. So it’s relatively early days, we planted the first set of mulberries in 2020. And then, you know, we then added some more trees in this sub next couple of years. So it’s relatively new still.
Steffen Mirsky 16:52
Wow. So you planted your first trees in 2020. And only three years later, you’re open for business.
Yeah, we’re, you know, the trees are growing extremely rapidly, they can grow as much as a foot per month, in, you know, eight, nine months of the year, if you take out the winter and the rainy season. And so you know, you can see it, you can have a two year old tree that is 18 feet tall, and a three year old can be you know, if we let it grow even taller. And I would say that you start to get some fruit, maybe about 10 pounds or so per tree maybe a little bit more in the second year. And then it grows rapidly from there in these trees, if if you let them grow large and tall, and they can yield, you know, 200-300 pounds of fruit per tree. But again, depending on how you prune them and how they’re grown, it could be less if obviously, if you don’t let the tree grow as tall and as wide.
So I think we should also count the time that they were in the you know, we grafted them on to different root stock. So I think that was also something that took time, but we are only counting time from the from the time we actually put them in on the farm, which was 2020.
It’s a long process. Once you make the decision to plant mulberries you work with either internally or with a nursery to get the trees you know, the ready to plant which takes about let’s say one year, nine months to a year, then you plant those trees and the initial fruit takes another two years after that, really, if you want any kind of yield, that’s north of 30 plus pounds, it takes three years. So now you’re four years from the time you know, decided to do this before you start to get in, you know, a yield, which can be commercially sold. And that I think is not easy thing for like, if you look at a lot of the berry, other berries, you can grow them much faster, and they’re shrubs. And so I think the investment required is higher. And you know, you have to go for a period of a few years before you can recoup that investment and the farm actually becomes profitable. And that won’t even happen in the third year of growth. It would happen you know once the trees are in the fifth or sixth year really because that’s when the yield is you know north of let’s say 60, 70, 80, 100 pounds a tree.
Steffen Mirsky 19:48
So you mentioned that you grafted your trees. Where did your so where did your scion come from? Was it just one tree from the UC Davis Collection? And then what did you graft those onto? Is it Is there some some rootstock that’s preferred?
There’s different things different rootstocks that people use, we used another mulberry rootstock, another tree. The scion came from the trees in my backyard, the mother tree that I had mentioned, which had really amazing quality of mulberries. Initially, we only planted a few trees, a few acres. And then as those trees grew, we took more scions from, you know, the mother tree as well as some of those trees. So essentially, you could say that pretty much all of those 10,000 trees came from that one tree. If you know, in a couple of two or three different tops.
Yeah, and this tree has incredible DNA. I mean, the fruit is really amazing, large, delicious, juicy, vibrant color. So I think even Himalayan mulberries, we wanted to make sure that the one that we got had great DNA, which was at least one known, that’s why we use the mother tree.
Steffen Mirsky 21:13
So I’m sure there’s people out there thinking that they would love to get their hands on some of this plant material. Are you sharing this or selling it? Or have you gotten any inquiries from people about that? And what has your response been?
We have, we’ve decided that we do want to share it. Obviously, we you know, as a business, we do a lot of R&D, some of it is not fully baked yet. Some of it, we want to keep proprietary. But as far as the trees go this year, when we did the u-pick and went to several farmers markets across the San Francisco Bay area, we received many inquiries about people wanting to buy these trees. So we have decided that we will sell some starter trees under the Very Mulberry brand from next year.
Steffen Mirsky 22:12
Right. I might be first in line for that.
I’ll be happy to get your one.
Steffen Mirsky 22:18
Cool. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your markets. You mentioned that you run a u-pick operation. Is that your only market for these, or do you have other outlets as well?
I mean, we sell through different channels. We sell online through Good Eggs, we and some other markets, online markets, which delivered directly to the customers homes. We are in more than a dozen farmer’s markets on our website: www.verymulberry.com lists all of those out. And then we also, you know, have u-pick every weekend. Next year, we may even open on a weekday, one of the one or two weekdays. And the u-pick, because of all these people from different countries, having eaten mulberries in their childhood, and not being able to eat them when they moved here to the US. We found just this unbelievable response from the community, which surprised us. We were hoping to get you know, 100 to 200 people. On our first weekend we hosted 1200. The second weekend went to 3000. And then ramped all the way up in the subsequent weekends to more than 600, 700, 800, 1000 people per weekend, from more than 40-50 countries, you know. We had people from Israel, from Turkey, from China, from India, from, you know, UK from, you know, just South America, so many places. And all of them had a story to tell, you know. We had 100 year old, great grandmother from China, who was telling us the story of how she climbed these mulberry trees when she was a kid in the 1930s in China and she stayed out there for two and a half hours. So it was an incredible experience. Now to you know, finish off on your question about the channels, next year as more of our trees start to grow older and have a higher yield. we’re also going to open up several wholesale channels through the traditional grocery stores and we’re in talks with several of them now. We always will have u-pick and farmers markets because we love that direct connection with the customers. But we also see ourselves growing other channels like, you know, we intend to look at a neighborhood CSA program or connecting with some. We intend to look at wholesale as well as online, continue to grow that.
And I think most of our mulberries will be sold in a, you know, small radius. So far, we are just in the Bay Area, and we may go off to LA, but outside of that we don’t plan to ship it or you know, send it across the country. It’s a very delicate and exquisite fruit, and it cannot bear being in or traveling all the way through.
Steffen Mirsky 25:50
So this may be going backwards a little bit, but I’m curious how you harvest the fruit. So I would think you know, for u-pick obviously, people are just picking up themselves from the tree. But when you’re selling it, farmer’s markets, or some of these wholesale accounts that you’re talking about, does your harvest look different for those markets?
We have, as you said, for u-pick, people handpick. We do have some handpicking happening at the farm. But the bulk of it is done in something we kind of invented, we call it the shake and pick, where, think of two large rectangular carts, which have nets on them being pushed to either side of the trunk of a particular tree, we then have some of the farm workers shake the tree, sometimes with their hands, if it’s small, sometimes with basically, again, certain farm equipments that we have created that can shake the major branches. And the beauty is that in about, you know, two months season May and June primarily, we ended up shaking each tree at least 30 plus times. So that’s, that’s a lot of shaking. And the beauty is that 95% plus of the mulberries that fall on the nets, you know that the cart, you know, has on top are ripe. So it’s it’s wonderful to be able to be able to harvest the entire tree in a matter of, you know, less than 60 seconds.
So I think there are two things. One is that the branches of a mulberry tree are very supple. They are not hard, so they can be shaken without damaging the branches. Second, you know, mulberries have this amazing property that when they are ripe when they’re purple and ripe, you just touch it, or you tap it and it falls in your hand. But unripe mulberry, you have to tug that. So when you shake the tree with just gently the ones that are ready to be tapped, those are the ones that fall and you do get some of the other ones too. But then you after that, you know we kind of manually pick each and every mulberry. But we try not to touch the mulberries a lot because we want to preserve the integrity of the fruit. And the you know, this shake and pick strategy, we have had many different variations of off in the past four or five years, even before our trees, we practiced on the tree in his backyard. And we figured out things that don’t work. And we’ve come to basically the strategy of making these neck carts with wheels on them. And these shakers that we shake the tree with.
Steffen Mirsky 28:51
Yeah, I can imagine you had to do all this research on your own because there weren’t any precedents for it, you’re the first ones. Just quick question, what do you grow between the rows of mulberries?
We don’t grow anything. We just have some, since we are big believers in you know, not using chemicals and growing organically sustainably. We do put some cover crops in between. But otherwise we don’t plant anything else.
Steffen Mirsky 29:27
Okay. So I’m also curious. So you talked a little bit about how the post harvest handling and processing needs to be really delicate. So after you’ve shaken the trees and you’d have a bunch of berries in the nets, what’s your process, what do you do with the berries after that to ensure that the quality is is high for farmers market or other markets?
Well, we have a crew that takes the berries off the nets, packs them into clam shells. You know, that’s where we do our one part of our quality control and inspection. Make sure it’s the right amount of berries. They’re not overpacked, under packed, you know they are the right quality berries. And then we quickly take those, you know, put them into crates and take those crates into basically a forced air cooling unit that brings the latent heat inside the berries, let’s say that they’re, you know, you pick them in the morning and the temperature is 70 degrees, the berries are around that temperature. The forced air cooling in about an hour and a half will bring that down to let’s say 40 degrees or less. And then we put them place them in the refrigerator, which then brings it down further to around 34-35 degrees, which is where they stay for a few hours till they are then or the next morning, which is when they are put into cold storage trucks that take them to the destination that they will be sold at.
Steffen Mirsky 31:07
Have you done any processing of the fruit or thought about you know, like what are mulberries good for besides fresh eating? Have you explored that at all?
Smitha will take that question.
So we have actually been experimenting a lot with a mulberries. They are great for smoothies, fresh or frozen. They are great for making jam. Mulberry jam actually has an incredible following. We had a lot of people try making jam on their own, different varieties. You can make use it in baking, these bake really well. You can make it even even made mulberry margaritas. You can use them in drinks, you can puree them really well and freeze them in cubes if you wanted to. So I think you can use them in anything, anything other berries are used for which is primarily your breakfast cereals your jams, your baking needs, even for cooking for sauces. We have somebody making beer with mulberries, so they are incredibly, you know, easy to process. And the only thing is that these mulberries have a lot of fiber, they have a long stem. And some people really liked the stem, some people leave a part of the stem outside. So depending on how you use it, in some cases, you can use the fruit as is. But in other cases like jam, you need to manage the stem, you need to figure out what you want to do with the stem. Either you blend it and make a jam, or you destem it and make a jam. So people have even sent us even more things and like they’ve made mulberry donuts, they’ve made mulberry ice cream. So we have a few artisans who are actually making different items with the mothers they have got from us. But we also have users, you know mulberry lovers who are using them in all different concoctions.
Steffen Mirsky 33:10
I’m wondering if you provide any of these tips or recipes like on your website or handouts to people when they come to your farm to give them ideas of what they can do with them? Or maybe they already know.
You know, this is actually a great question. Many of them don’t know. And they ask us so we do have a small recipe section on our website, but we plan to increase it next year. We also have received a lot of recipes from users who are adventurous enough to try them. And we are going to put those out also next year. We also put some tips on how to freeze mulberries because the season is short. And the fruit is delicious. So you want to extend you know your love for the fruit throughout the season. So we have put in a video on how to actually freeze the mulberries, but we do want to keep doing more and more work every year to bring some education and engagement on how to use the mulberries outside of just snacking on them. But I will say that very few mulberries make it to processing. Most of the mulberries are just, for the time being, consumed as a snack.
Steffen Mirsky 34:25
And can you say how long your season is? Approximately?
This season is a short season about to about eight weeks. Sometimes it can be a little bit less sometimes a little bit more. Seven to nine weeks is a good gauge to look at. Generally in Brentwood, which is where our farm is in the month of May and June. Although there are microclimates which you know, get them earlier in April and then there’s some that will extend into July but generally that two months, May and June, is a good number to look at.
Steffen Mirsky 35:05
Yeah. And so you talked about how your customers come from all over the world and that on any given weekend, you can have people from 30 plus countries. I just think that’s so cool. Can you say any more about what it’s been like to have such diversity of people come out to the farm and be so excited to pick these moberries?
It’s been really exciting. I love people interacting with them, I think. You know, one of the organizations I started in the past is called the India Community Center was inspired by the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center, which is now the largest indo-focused community center in North America. So I’ve always been, we’ve always been, Smita, Gotham, passionate about building community, connecting with people. And I would say that of all the channels that u-pick has been the most fulfilling. I’ve spent barring one weekend where I had some personal stuff to take care of, I was there just about every other every weekend, every Saturday, every Sunday from, you know, when it started to when it stopped. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to have people come from all these different backgrounds, and they haven’t tasted mulberries and see that reaction, I found myself talking to people as they would walk in. And you know, asking them when had they tasted a mulberry if they hadn’t, before we even got them to sign the liability or get some clamshells. I literally walked them to the tree right next to us, and just had them taste one and saw the look on their face. And we have some of those pictures on our Instagram, where the look of delight and reconnection. People told us so many stories about their childhood, and you know, as they kind of missed mulberries. And then there were also people that had never tried them before, that just heard about it from friends. And you know, there’s a growing buzz, let’s just call it in Silicon Valley that there is a new fruit in town, and people want to know it, people want to taste it, people want to experience it. And as these people that had never tasted one, we would you know, just it would be fun to just have them, you know, put the first mulberry in their mouth and just look at their, you know, reaction and ask them what they thought of it. And you know, by and large people absolutely fell in love with have have, you know, have all fallen in love with them, and are reconnecting or you know, a new love affair for people that haven’t tried them. So it’s been incredible.
I would add that, you know, one very difficult consumer is a child, it’s very hard to have them like something and they are very honest in their opinions. They can be brutal. And they will never mince their words and children loved mulberries, the one thing that we found over and over again, that there were babies and little children, families were coming with three generations, large groups were coming with friends. So it wasn’t just a fruit, it became an experience of or family bonding. We had a group of people who came and just worshipped the mulberry tree. And so there was a lot, there’s a lot of emotion, a lot of nostalgia. But also there’s a lot of love for this new discovery. And I don’t think it’s just the taste. I think there’s also a lot of knowledge that many of us have about the nutrition already. And then getting a thumbs up from the littlest consumers. I think that to us, was very incredible.
Steffen Mirsky 39:16
Yeah, that must be really gratifying. From a business perspective, what has it been like so far? I mean, have you been selling out of all your berries or? I mean, it sounds like you see room for growth. And then you’re seeing more and more people get interested. Just curious. Yeah, what’s it been like from a business standpoint?
I think it it started slowly, slowly. But as people realized that mulberries were here and available, we started seeing just a lot more people coming. As I mentioned, our u-pick traffic grew from 1200 in the first weekend to, you know, 7000-8000 people per weekend in the last two, three weekends. Our farmers markets would sell out routinely some within the first two or three hours. And what would happen is that people would come and say that I came to the market today for one reason to buy these mulberries. And you would see lines forming, which which typically doesn’t happen at farmer’s markets, there’s just these lines, people just were waiting to get these. So we’re now at a point where we just in one short season, have inbound interest from multiple places, people that want to process them and put them in their products, people that just want to, you know, buy some, you know, chain stores that want to carry these. And despite the fact that we’re the largest grower, you know, even with the 80-90 acres, demand is increasing. And we see this mushrooming. We believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for mulberries to capture America’s imagination, we believe that it has that magic about it. And we see the mulberry market over the next few years, decade, two decades, growing significantly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this became you know, the top selling berry in America in the future.
Steffen Mirsky 41:33
Wow. That is quite a prediction.
It is actually a very easy to love. Steffen, it’s very easy to love mulberry, it has a very gentle taste, great texture, beautiful color. And again, like other varies, it is also very high in nutrition. But the nutrition in mulberry is actually higher than most of the fruits. So I think once you get over the hurdle of the new fruit, and you know how it looks, it looks like long caterpillar. So once you get over that, everything else is delicious about it. It’s just an incredible experience to taste one.
I actually liked the way they look. But me I think I’m biased in that sense. The thing that we haven’t specifically touched on, which I think might be interest to your listeners is that there’s a lot of talk these days about superfoods you know, and it’s almost become a buzzword that’s used quite often. And berries come up often, because of their, you know, low glycemic index, they don’t spike your sugar, glucose levels as much as some of the other fruits. But to find a berry, that in Asia is known as shatoot, which means berries fit for royalty or the king of berries. That then is a super food among berries. It actually is healthier, you know, than all other berries, for example, it has the lowest glycemic index, it has the highest iron content, which is you know, really something that a lot of people, especially women it’s great for. It’s three times more than three times iron content. And then you couple that with a high calcium, which helps with absorption of iron, and so many other properties and at some point I think Smita you should talk a little bit about not just the fruit but the leaf. What amazing properties the leaf has. It’s not by accident that silkworms will only eat mulberry leaves. So we like to call it Steffen, not a superfood but a miracle food. We are coining a new category called miracle food because it is the superfood of superfoods yet tasting so sweet. People have routinely asked us have you poured some syrup or sugar on it and we smile and say no, you just pulled it off the tree a good we have done that. So it’s it’s a remarkable fruit.
Steffen Mirsky 44:26
Smita, do you want to say anything about the leaves and the nutrition?
Yes, yes. So you know the leaves as delicious as a mulberry fruit is the leaves that if you do research on them, they blow you away and the mulberry leaf is high in protein. It is considered as a medicinally in many parts of Asia. They powder it they dry it powder it or they make a tea out of it. It is supposed to be great for managing sugar for pre-diabetic. And also for a diabetic. So typically, there’s a lot of research existing already, it’s a very clinically really well studied leaf and ingested before a meal in a powder form, it helps block the absorption of carbohydrates. And several studies have shown that mulberry leaves help people with diabetes with high cholesterol levels. And you know, as you know that these are the main epidemic that America is facing today. In fact, the whole world is facing today. So we feel that mulberry leaf is another untapped leaf given to us by nature. And there’s a lot of existing studies and we’ve actually received several, I mean numerous messages from people asking us to sell the leaves, because they want to use it in their own cooking, they want to dry it and use it themselves. We have received messages from Chinese traditional medicine herbalist who want to get these leaves. So at some point, we will we just been overwhelmed with all the love from the community and with the actual processes are growing the mulberry up to this point. And I also feel really happy that it’s the mulberry fruit and the leaves together, you know, we could have grown the leaves fruitless mulberry and put the leaves on the shelf for people to buy, that doesn’t do anything, because you don’t understand the magic of mulberries without tasting the fruit. So to bring the leaf and the fruit together, that’s our vision. That’s our goal. And I will say something about the mulberry tree also, I think we are biased. But yeah, absolutely. But mulberry tree in, you know, literature is considered to be a giving tree. It has remarkable fruit. It has medicinal leaves, it has a lifespan of a human. And then when it goes, it gives up all its branches and you know, and the bark. So it’s a remarkable fruit. And, and it’s a remarkable tree. So we are actually not trailblazers, we are also very humbled and very excited and very proud to be working with something as unique and exceptional as a mulberry tree.
Steffen Mirsky 47:28
That’s really beautiful. Thanks for sharing that. So I think we all know that when you stumble upon a good idea, there, there are other people who want to do the same thing. Have you found that other people have become interested in planting mulberries and starting farms? And what’s your interaction with with them been like?
I think you’re right. Anything that shows promise, people are attracted to it as they are in this case, we’ve had people, many of them approached us about learning more about, you know, how we grow them, what varieties, details, economics around them, that want to start their own farm. And, you know, we, you know, our goal is not just to be the only mulberry grower and try to you know, just maintain that we want to introduce America to mulberries and the only way that happens is if a lot more it becomes a mainstream crop. You know, you hear about, you know, I’m a big fan of Tesla. And they talk about basically accelerating world towards sustainable energy. Use. If we just want to carry that to mulberries, we think it’s a good thing. If more people grow them, and there is interest, we do think that it will be a learning process for people. We are personally looking at exploring things like contract farming and working with farmers that want to grow them in helping them providing them possibly the initial starter trees, showing them how to grow it and then effectively getting you know buying all the mulberries from them and selling them. And you know, in that sense partnering with them. That’s one of the programs we intend to look at. Smita, would you want to add anything to what I said?
I think you said it nicely. We do want to bring mulberries to other farmers, because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to blanket the entire US with mulberries.
Speaker 1 49:50
The only other thing I would add is that, you know, if you’re, if somebody’s a farmer wanting to grow these, it is not an easy crop to grow. We have made some mistakes, we have learned. And you know some of them have been expensive mistakes. But we’re very committed to bringing this incredible fruit mulberry to America. So if if there is farmers that are interested in growing them, we would love to talk to them and seeing if we might be able to help. Help them avoid certain pitfalls that we experienced and even explore if there are ways for us to work potentially to work together with them.
Steffen Mirsky 50:36
That’s fantastic. I love that attitude. Well, as we wrap up here, is there anything else that you’d like to share with people that we haven’t already touched on?
I think there are two things that I would say and Smita you can add. First, if you hear this podcast and are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I think you should come and experience mulberries at our farm and let us host you, next season we’re going to be doing it by reservations most likely due to just so much demand. And frankly, if you’re outside the Bay Area, and you happen to be visiting, or maybe plan a visit during the May-June timeframe, let us know that you’re visiting and we pretty much now we believe always going to be sold out as far as our u-pick reservations. But if you’re from out of town, we will keep a special quota for people from out of town to come visit us and experience. It’s incredible fruit. It’s just amazing for your health. So you should try it.
And and I just want to say thank you. You know we have received a lot of love from the community. We have received stories we have had people who burst into tears when they tasted the fruit because it reminded them of their childhoods. We have had grandmas bringing their grandkids because they want to have them taste the fruit that they had when they were growing up. So we have received so many stories, videos, pictures, comments, and we have received so much love. So we are you know, immensely grateful. We feel very blessed. And we feel really fortunate to be bringing a fruit which is very easy to love.
Yeah, so Steffen thank you also for having us. It was wonderful to chat with you and mulberries is a topic we never get tired, posting about.
Steffen Mirsky 52:50
Thanks so much to Smita and Anil for their time and sharing their amazing story and thank you for listening.
JASON FISCHBACH 53:10
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension