Summer’s a berry good time in Niagara

Nothing signals the beginning of summer better than biting into a big, juicy strawberry. Strawberries are also a favourite ingredient in baked goods during the summer months when strawberry shortcake, strawberry muffins and even strawberry ice cream become popular.


Jill Hildreth of Hildreth Farms says the qualities to look for in strawberries are firmness and sweetness.


She also says moisture is important for growing healthy, edible strawberries. “Strawberry plants take all of their moisture from the top six inches of the soil,” says Hildreth, and that serious growers irrigate their crops, rather than rely on the weather.


Additionally, Hildreth says the health of this year’s crop is excellent, adding that the berries are large and slightly soft.


This year’s crop has been slow to ripen, due to the unstable weather southern Ontario has experienced over the last few weeks, however, the recent heat wave has allowed the strawberries to ripen considerably.


“The plants are ready to roll,” says Hildreth.


Even though strawberries remain popular, both as a healthy snack and in baked goods, growers such as Hildreth Farms have found that there has been a decline in the number of people who choose to pick their own strawberries.


Hildreth attributes this decline to a number of different factors. She says the number of people who visit pick-your-own farms and other small operations has dropped because of more easily accessible farms in Brampton, Caledon and other areas immediately north of Toronto. In addition, Hildreth also says many people have begun to conserve gas due to the high price at the pump and as a result are not driving as far or as often as they used to.


Hildreth says she has seen a demographic shift in the people who visit Hildreth Farms, from out-of-towners, to locals, mostly senior citizens who have always picked their own strawberries. She credits this to the fact that for most families, time is a luxury and as a result many younger people can’t afford to take the time away from work or school to pick their own strawberries.


She says this is also compounded by the fact that many people choose to buy pre-cut strawberries rather than pick their own, even though there has been greater encouragement in recent years to buy produce directly from local farmers.


If this decline continues, could it mean the loss of a link to the Niagara Region’s agricultural past?




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