Fruit ex­plo­sion

Straw­berry pro­duc­ers see­ing boost in busi­ness

Cape Breton Post - - PROVINCIAL - BY RYAN COOKE NORTH RIVER TC MEDIA

Jim Lorraine has never had traf­fic com­ing through his straw­berry fields like he has this month.

He even had to en­list the help of his 17-year-old son to di­rect traf­fic on Satur­day, as cars lined up on West North River Road, wait­ing their turn to drive down onto Riverbreeze Farms.

It’s been a long time com­ing, af­ter a pair of dis­as­trous years of dis­ease and cir­cum­stance.

“2013 and ‘14 weren’t overly favourable to us or any other straw­berry pro­duc­ers in the province,” Lorraine said. “So hope­fully this year will re­coup that.”

De­spite open­ing about 10 days later than av­er­age, the de­lay seems to have only drummed up more ex­cite­ment. The fields were full of pick­ers on Satur­day, with both lo­cal tourists and peo­ple from abroad com­ing to the North River farm.

“They’re com­ing from all over, and we’ve never seen crowds like this,” Lorraine said. “Our cus­tomer base is pretty much dou­bled.”

See­ing a sim­i­lar trend, Curtis Millen of Great Vil­lage’s Millen Farms is also ex­pect­ing a solid sea­son.

“We were a bit late open­ing, but the berries are com­ing in now,” he said. “It looks like it will be a real good crop.”

Millen planted be­tween 160 and 170 acres of berries this year, not­ing his plant­ing re­flects the de­mand he ex­pects through­out the sum­mer.

It’s the same de­mand that’s got Gwen MacAus­land smil­ing a lit­tle more this time of year. The farm man­ager at Riverbreeze was busy Satur­day, help­ing out in the U-pick ar­rival booth in the early af­ter­noon.

“We’re go­ing quite a bit, but we’ve pulled in ex­tra staff, too,” she said. “But we love it. If you ask any­one on the staff here, we all love it.”

A line of more than 20 cars stretched the far side of the farm at the foot of the fields, as dozens of peo­ple picked straw­ber­ries. At the front booth, lines of five and six cars pulled up at a time, some en­ter­ing, some leav­ing. A “wagon train” pulled by a John Deere side-by-side hauled seven carts of kids and par­ents for a tour around the prop­erty.

Lorraine’s fam­ily first toiled in the dirt here in 1791, build­ing a house on the side of the hill lead­ing down to the fields. Lorraine and his wife, Tricia, were cat­tle farm­ers un­til the shaky na­ture of the busi­ness led them to a change of heart in 1997.

“The beef mar­ket kept col­laps­ing on us, so we de­cided to try some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said. “We chose straw­ber­ries be­cause it’s the most pop­u­lar sum­mer crop.”

They built a fan base with their in­fa­mous haunted corn maze, gain­ing 12,000 fol­low­ers on their Face­book page.

RYAN COOKE/TC MEDIA

A wagon trail led by a John Deere side-by-side pulled groups of par­ents and chil­dren for a tour around the farm on Satur­day. The tours were steady all day long as the farm had its busiest day so far this sea­son.

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