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A berry good season?

Ken and Joy Hoffman are busy just now with strawberry season finally picking up. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

With strawberry season in full swing, it seems that the local market sure is taking notice.

Ken and Joy Hoffman of Hoffman’s Strawberries said that Canada Day was so busy on their strawberry farm in Heidelberg that they had to close the pick-your-own section to allow for more ripening, as the majority of their ripe berries were already whisked away.

“It’s great to be on top of the ripening as opposed to being behind,” said Ken. “When that happens, you have soft berries; they spoil, you don’t want that. I would say we’re encouraged – we’re about a week into the season at this point.”

“We have some for sale at the roadside retail right now,” added Joy. “So we’re just getting going; as more berries ripen, our hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. will be more firm.”

They expect to reopen Thursday morning again. While the Hoffmans, along with other local strawberry farms, are only just starting the strawberry season, other farms across the province are well into it. The arrival, finally, of higher temperatures has kicked the process into gear.

“It’s been a later start because of the cool temperatures in May. We’re about 11 days later than last season. It’s going well now – great demand,” said Ken.

Producers in other parts of Ontario, such as Niagara and Simcoe, began their berry season in mid-June. The Berry Growers of Ontario says this summer’s is one of the highest quality crops in years.

“Not only do we have new growing techniques, but we have 200 growers who can bring local berries to market for an extended season,” said Tom Heeman, the organization’s chair, in a release. “That’s good news for consumers who may be used to a short season. Ontario-grown field strawberries can be found May through October. And greenhouse-grown strawberries are now available year-round.”

The new production techniques include raised troughs, allowing for strawberries to be grown at waist height. This makes for easier harvesting and under protective tunnels for better quality. The berry is then shielded from rain and wind, resulting in sweet, high-quality fruit.

Local berries are the way to go for several reasons: environmental benefits, such as a reduced carbon footprint compared to imports, nutritional benefits such as improved brain and gut health, and economic benefits that go to local farmers.

While it may be an excellent berry season province-wide, Ken Hoffman said it’s a bit too soon to say if it has been a good strawberry year in Waterloo Region.

“It’s a bit too early at this point to say ‘Oh it’s been a great year.’ We’re not there yet. For it to be a great year, you need to have three to five weeks of good picking,” he explained. “We’re just past week one so it’s way too early to determine what kind of a year it’s been. But the crop looks great, so the potential is there for a good year.”

 

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