U-pick operations to open with safety precautions

Online stores set up to assist sales of pre-picked berries

U-picks for strawberries, saskatoon berries and other fruits will open this June with safety measures in place, the Prairie Fruit Growers Association announced on May 20.

PFGA, which represents 70 U-pick farms in Manitoba, has been working with Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development fruit crops specialist, Anthony Mintenko, to develop COVID-19 guidelines.

“Some of the recommended guidelines for customers will be to wash your hands before entering and when leaving the farm, maintaining physical distancing, and no large groups,” Mintenko said in the news release.

Guidelines listed on the province’s website ask people travelling to U-pick farms to limit how many people come with them into the field, to sanitize hands before and after going onto the field, and to maintain physical distancing.

It also states that people should not eat berries in the field as this is a transmission concern.

The province has also set guidelines for farm owners, including handwashing protocols and other sanitization procedures for their farm and farm workers.

In addition to the guidelines, PFGA is working on setting up an appointment booking system on its website which will help farms manage physical distancing.

“Some farms may need assistance in controlling the flow of people,” said PFGA president Colleen Edmunds in the release. “By setting up this optional appointment system, it provides our farmers with a tool to help maintain physical distancing.”

“We wanted to set these guidelines up to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can to continue to provide safe food in a safe environment,” said PFGA executive director Angie Cormier.

“We also think there might be an increase in the demand for pre-picked berries so we’re working on setting up an online store for those farms that will need it,” said PFGA director Philip Ronald.

Ronald, who owns Riverbend Orchards near Portage la Prairie, has set up an online store on his farm’s site, listing haskap berry plants and products made from the farm’s berries. They’ll list more products later in the summer, Ronald said.

“The idea is that clients can reduce their time on site by pre-ordering,” he told the Co-operator.

Haskap, saskatoons, strawberries, raspberries and sour cherries are expected to be ready for picking mid- to late June, PFGA said. Because practices will vary based on each farm’s specific needs, the association advises customers to contact their local farm before heading out to pick.

About the author

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Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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