Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A Report From The (Strawberry) Field

We got up at an ungodly hour this morning (8:00 am!) and headed out to a local pick-your-own strawberry farm. We had heard at the farmers market (oh, 'scuse me. They're calling it the "Saturday Market" these days, 'cuz they can't round up many actual, you know, farmers) that the strawberry crop this year is dismal. It was certainly confirmed when we visited the farm.

For the first time in 29 years of farming strawberries, this farmer has been having trouble with grubs eating his plants. Apparently, last summer he noticed his plants wilting. He irrigated, but this did not really improve the situation, so he pulled out some plants, and discovered that the roots were being eaten by grubs. He speculates that the winters have not been cold enough recently to kill a large number of the grubs and keep them from being a major pest. Add in a late cold spring, followed by instant heat wave and drought and, well, it's not a pretty picture. He doesn't expect to be open for more than a few days more - just a little past half his usual picking season of 25 days. Even now in what should be the peak of the season, we had to pick three long rows to get about 9 pounds.*

Not surprisingly, the farmer is thinking of retiring. After all, he's been at it for just about 30 years, and this is hardly worth the effort. I'll be sorry, though. I've liked going to this farm. It's close, and although it isn't organic, the farmer takes a minimalist approach to the application of chemicals. Also, he provided me with one of my favourite food quotes of all time, when he told us a few years back, "The big strawberries are in this field - the good strawberries are in that field." Obviously, a man who knows his berries, even if he also knows that there are a lot of people out there who will go for instant gratification over quality. Unfortunately, I think the plants he are growing now are just the big ones. It's hard to say, because thanks to the lousy weather, they were not that big.





* Just for fun, I worked it out. The difference between buying ready-picked and pick-your-own worked out to a "pay" rate of about $4.25 per hour, each. Which isn't why we go, of course. But still, interesting...

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