Fickle weather, high labour costs and global competition for the jam and juice market may mean that the area commonly known as Strawberry Hills will grow less and less of the bright red, highly aromatic juicy fruit.
A strawberry growing and processing industry once thrived in Strawberry Hills, which lies roughly between 240 and 248 Streets south of 72 Avenue, producing in a good year more than 20 million pounds of strawberries.
But times, if not palates, change, and when a local food processor recently decided to no longer accept strawberries, it forced one berry farmer to look at other ways to keep his property agriculturally viable.
With its good soil and proximity to Vancouver and the Canada/US border, Strawberry Hills puts Krause Berry Farms and other area producers in a unique position.
As Alf Krause notes, while the urban Vancouver market puts pressure on producers, it also provides an opportunity that no other can.
“Our location allows us to pick, process, and deliver our products at the moment they are at their very best,” he said.
And while the strawberry may no longer be the pick of the crop, it has a new future in wine.
In early July, Krause Berry Farms, which Krause operates with his wife, Sandee, received approval from Township council for a winery lounge that can seat up to 130 patrons. Half the seats would be indoors, the other on a patio.
A permit also allows it to establish winery special events area.
When the farm layout was first designed, consideration was given to neighbours so that today, the buildings are in the centre of the property, well off 248 Street, and a parking lot for 200 vehicles ensures that there is no on-street parking.
The increasing interest in wine, culinary and agri-tourism gives strength to Krause Farms’ proposal to create a fruit winery that will support a winery lounge, licensed patio, picnic area, and special events section.
To begin, the winery would produce 15,000 (1,600 cases) of fruit wine from strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries grown at Krause Farms.
It’s possible that a small vineyard on the farm would eventually lead to grape wine.
While the main focus would be the sale of wine from the on-site retail store and winery lounge, wine would be offered to other outlets, including government liquor stores.
“Although grape wines have a greater universal appeal, fruit wine has traditionally enjoyed great favour with female clients in the 35 to 60 age range,” Krause Farms wrote in their proposal to the Township.
“And increasingly fruit wine is gaining popularity with 20-ish customers, as well as with clients, including bars, who like to mix wine cocktails.”
Industry trends suggest that British Columbia wine is increasing market position compared with beer.
Ted Bowman, formerly of the Fort Wine Company, joined Krause Farms last December as resident winery manager.
Krause anticipates all the permits he needs will be issued within the next few weeks, in time for the opening of the new features at the end of August.