Strawberry producers seeing boost in business
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.
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.