LOCAL FLAVOUR: South Island expecting a bumper berry crop

LOCAL FLAVOUR: South Island expecting a bumper berry crop

It’s berry time in Saanich. My raspberries are getting plump and ripe and I am thinking it’s going to be a good year. I thought I would find out how things were going for our local berry farmers this season and I am pleased to let you know the outlook is for a delicious summer ahead.

Ivan Mishchenko of Ruby Red Farms grows blueberries and says that he is expecting a good yield this season. The weather has been good, a little cooler perhaps, bringing the crops along more slowly.

He believes this will generate a good quality crop and the taste of the berries will be fantastic this year. Don’t get your hopes up for some of his lovely berries though. He has already sold his crop this season, exclaiming that “we can’t produce enough.” Ivan is very thankful for his faithful customers and told us “it’s a beautiful thing I have travelled all over the world and the south end of the island has the most dedicated consumers for buying local food.”

At Silver Rill Berry Farm the crops are doing well. Pamela Fox tells us they are currently picking cherries and expect a fairly decent crop. They are also harvesting currents and gooseberries. They are always looking for help with picking and find it can be a challenge.

This year they are trying out a new berry harvester that they purchased in January. If you are interested in visiting their farm they have black, red and white currants, green and red gooseberries, lapin, stella and sour cherries and josta berries (a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry) if you are looking for something new to try.

Gobind Farms is a 90-acre farm that specializes in farm fresh seasonal berries. Satnam Dheenshaw, who I consider the “Berry King”, reported that the cooler weather has led to a variable season for strawberries, but now everything is coming on and ready. He has many workers who come through the temporary foreign worker program from Mexico.

Unfortunately, they are behind in their harvest, with these workers arriving late this year. This is impacting many farms across B.C. Even though, he said, they are keeping up but it will be harder as the weather gets hotter and the berries ripen quickly. Gobind Farms is a great place to find a wide range of berries including strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, tayberries, loganberries and blueberries.

Another favorite place for blueberries is Stewarts Berry Patch along Oldfield Road. Ian Stewart has been producing on his farm for over 25 years and reports that this is stacking up to be a good season.

The weather has co-operated and they have had very good pollination. They do not use pesticides but employ a loveliness of ladybugs for controlling aphids (yes a group of ladybugs is called a loveliness!). Stewarts feature six varieties of blueberries available in late June to mid-August “subject to the influences of Mother Nature” according to their website. They have both U-Pick and ready-picked berries available.

There are really so many great berry growers around; these are just a few of our great producers. If you are looking for places to buy local berries you can find them at the Saanich Sunday Market at Braefoot Park that runs until Aug. 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More and more retailers are also featuring local berries these days.

You will see some of them displayed next to the new Island Good signs that showcase island products. I enjoy getting out to the farms and buying direct from the growers. Check out the Savour Saanich Guide on the District of Saanich website on the Food and Agriculture page. This guide provides an overview of where and what local food is being grown in Saanich.

You can find farms offering box programs, lots of vegetables and fruits, honey, plant starts, trees, ethically raised meats – and of course berries. Another great resource that goes a little further afield is the Farm Fresh Guide that is brought to you by the Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association. It is also available online at islandfarmfresh.com.

Berries are a beautiful burst of flavour when you eat them fresh and they are a truly versatile fruit. They are great for baking, making jams, jellies, sauces, syrup, crumbles and pies. You can use them for smoothies, teas, wine, or fancy cocktails too.

I would recommend buying twice as many as you think you will need. It is hard to resist eating them fresh but I can’t tell you how happy I am to have extra stored away in my freezer to savour the taste of summer year round.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.