U-pick fruit farms are seeing a resurgence in customers as families and friends make a day trip of heading out to pick strawberries and other locally grown fruits
Berry-picking season is just days away and for some winter-weary Manitobans it can’t come soon enough.
Some growers had eager customers show up in mid-May.
“It was like, ‘we’re here and where’s the strawberries?’” said Darren Cormier who with his wife Angie Cormier operates a 10-acre strawberry field at La Salle.
Customers are genuinely excited about the prospects of picking local fruit, and more growers are seeing this ‘new’ kind of customer, say the Cormiers.
These are U-pickers who’ll travel to the province’s fruit farms, not necessarily to load up pails to take home, but simply to have an enjoyable day in the country.
They often see groups arrive together, pick a few pails between them, and sit down to eat them on the spot, say the Cormiers, whose own strawberry field just south of Winnipeg is ideally suited for those wanting to make a short jaunt to the farm.
Anthony Mintenko, Manitoba Agriculture’s fruit crops industry development specialist confirms there’s been renewed interest among U-pickers looking for locally grown fruit.
“Customers are looking for something different now, and they think of it as an experience and a family event,” he said, noting that’s a shift from what was for a time an observed decline in the pick-your-own concept.
The PFGA’s revamped website, and links to social media, is helping to get word out to a wider base of customers, too.
Many are new Canadians and they come looking for a wider range of fruits, as well, says Angie Cormier, who is the PFGA’s executive director.
These are folk who may never have heard of saskatoons, but they know what a haskap is, and gooseberries and sour cherries are familiar and sought-after fruits by them, as well.
“The demographic makeup of Manitoba is changing,” she said.
“People are immigrating from all over the world and they want fruits that aren’t well known here, but recognized elsewhere in the world. So there’s definitely a market there.”
Some members of the PFGA have added these new fruits to their offerings, and the association’s website now has an additional link for ‘tree fruits’ listing growers who produce fruits such as plums, sour cherries and apples.
Strawberries remain the largest acreage in the province, with roughly 60 to 75 per cent of fruit growers.
The vast majority of fruit growers sell their crops direct to market, freezing product for off-season sales.
The Cormiers see the fruit-growing business as promising enough that they look to eventually transition away from their careers to devote to fruit production full time. Cormier has already set aside her nursing career to work for the PFGA and devote herself full time to managing their farm, while Darren, who has an MBA, continues to work.
Their days — and the rest of PFGA’s 60 or so members — are about to become the busiest of their year right now.
Berry picking is beginning a little later this year, with farms generally opening up about a week beyond their usual time, and 2018 is looking promising, even despite winterkill setbacks experienced province-wide. (Please see sidebar ‘Strawberry fields hit by winterkill.’)
More heat ahead is good news for those with ripening berries in their fields and growers she’s spoken with are in generally good spirits, said Angie Cormier.
“There’s definitely good berries coming.”