U-picks that saw record traffic last year as homebound families headed to berry fields for one of the few socially acceptable – and socially distanced – activities during the pandemic saw a more regular flow of visitors this year.
“Last year, overall, it was busier during the weekdays. People were working from home and there was no school,” says Katie Leek of Emma Lea Farms on Westham Island. “This year it wasn’t as busy on weekdays but weekends were busier.”
But visitor numbers might well have been stronger this year if it hadn’t been for the weather. Emma Lea’s strawberry season typically runs over three weekends in June, with all six days quite busy. This year, Leek says weather reduced traffic to just three days.
“The first weekend we had heavy rains on the Sunday and had to close all of our u-pick fields due to that, then the Father’s Day weekend was our typical busy weekend then the following weekend was when the heat wave hit, so very few people came out,” she says.
The heat wave also put an end to the strawberry crop, which had to be picked pronto and quickly sold.
It was a similar story at Krause Berry Farms in Langley, where strawberries coloured up during the heat wave but school wasn’t yet out, leaving fewer people than last year to pick them.
“Now that school is done we’ll see what happens,” says Alf Krause, who says support for local produce remains strong.
Protocols introduced during the pandemic also helped manage visitor numbers.
“We made changes last year that have made it easier, even this year, to carry on with the u-pick,” says Krause.
The farm also still requires visitors wear facemasks despite the relaxation of provincial restrictions. Many of its staff are younger and haven’t been fully vaccinated. Given the ongoing labour shortage, Krause can’t afford one of them getting infected. He says having to shut down operations during the peak summer season because of “any kind of an outbreak would be devastating.”
Both Leek and Krause are keeping an eye on their blueberries. The heat wave has had a noticeable impact on both operations, and Emma Lea’s plantings were also hit by hail at the end of May.
According to the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, as of July 4, 70 berry growers in the Lower Mainland had filed notices of loss as a result of the heat wave.
Okanagan growers have been hit even harder, however, with 265 tree fruit growers filing notices of loss.
Cherry growers have been particularly affected, with up to 75% of the crop impacted.