U-pick returns to Langley – with physical distancing

Berry farmers are getting ready for an unusual season

Langley’s berry farmers are getting ready for a season transformed by a pandemic – but with U-pick in local fields.

“Everything’s changing daily,” noted Rhonda Driediger, of Driediger Farms, which produces strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

But she noted that change is pretty typical for farmers, who have to constantly adjust to weather and shifting markets for their products.

“You have to learn how to farm in a crisis, because every year is a crisis,” Driediger said.

Strawberries are set to ripen around early June, if the weather holds, and local farms are planning to harvest and to invite the public out to the fields.

“Everyone’s asking right now if u-pick will be open,” said Driediger.

She confirmed the plan is to host u-pick, with physical distancing between visitors to the fields. The farm is getting ready and is opening its market building on 72nd Avenue already, largely for pick up of advance sales.

As at public locations like grocery stores, the farm will provide guidelines for visitors, but it will be up to the visitors to stick to them and respect physical distancing, Driediger said.

One of the other issues farms are facing is labour.

Driediger Farms uses about 30 temporary foreign workers during the intense harvest season. A dozen of them arrived in Canada before the lockdown, and another 18 are scheduled to arrive in May or June.

Under current legislation, they’ll have to spend 14 days in quarantine before they can start work. The federal government is offering a $1,500 per worker supplement to help with that cost.

Driediger said she wasn’t sure if the workers will still have to be quarantined by the time they come up for the summer season, and the farm is waiting to see what happens.

Other farmers are also adjusting to the new rules.

Blueberries are expected to ripen starting in mid-June and different varieties will be harvested through the summer into late August or early September, said Leeann Froese, speaking for the B.C. Blueberry Council.

While there are temporary foreign workers used in some blueberry harvesting, there are even more local, Canadian citizens who take part in the harvest as seasonal workers.

National numbers showed that as of the end of April, the number of foreign workers who had already arrived in Canada was about 85 per cent of the number from April of 2019, Froese said.

It isn’t known if more workers will be arriving in May or not, or if Canadian employers will use fewer foreign workers this year.

“It’s expected those seasonal workers will come back,” Froese said. “There may be the opportunity to grow that work force.”

By the time of the peak of harvest, every worker is needed on berry farms, Froese noted.

Other local farms are also adjusting to the changes. Krause Berry Farms, another longtime local farm, has partnered up with Joseph Richards Group restaurants, who are now carrying the Krause frozen pies, frozen berries, and preserves as part of the JRG curb side take out and DIY meal kit services the restaurants have launched in the Lower Mainland.

So far, while the pandemic has caused a lot of adjustments, the weather has been good for local farmers, according to Driediger and Froese.

“We’re pretty optimistic,” Driediger said.

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