Strawberry pickers busy in Colchester County fields

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[Great Village, NS] - (Nova Scotia) Strawberries are "very early" this season, with plants hanging heavy with the sweet, juicy summer fruit.

Erica Simpson, a native of Jamaica, is spending her first summer in Canada working at Millen Farms Ltd. in Great Village, Nova Scotia and loving every minute of her time there.

Curtis Millen, a Great Village-based strawberry grower, said his crop was ripe for the picking about two weeks earlier than normal.

"We've picked in the field since the 27th of May," said Millen. The majority of berries picked on his farm are sold commercially to one of the province's largest grocery store chains, Sobeys, as well as Masstown Market.

He has expanded the strawberry fields of his farm by about 25 per cent and now has more than 120 acres in production along with about 35 acres of nursery stock, which will be sold to producers in Florida in the fall.

"We have different production methods that's going to allow us to have berries in production until October," said the farmer.

Early berry varieties are grown in raised beds watered by an underground irrigation system.

Millen said with the expansion of the strawberry fields and addition of new raised beds, the farm should ensure berries from May to October on a regular basis.

The farm's U-pick will also soon be open.

Strawberries at RiverBreeze Farm in Onslow have also ripened early and are now being sold at roadside market stands around the area.

"It's very good," said Jim Lorraine, owner of RiverBreeze Farm. "We're going to have a very good year."

"The weather has been great."

Berries at his farm were being picked about a week ago, (June 17)one week ahead of a usual harvest.

"Last year we didn't start until June 22, I think it was the 13th this year," he said.

Early season berries are selling for about $4 a quart box. Lorraine said that price drops as the season progresses.

He said U-pick prices would remain the same as last year when it opens for the season on June 23.

He expects the summer season to last about five weeks, about until the end of July. By then late strawberry varieties will be in bloom and will extend the growing season into October.

This year it has been easier to find staff to reap the harvest.

"We've got lots of locals picking," he said. He began recruiting workers early in the year and they have a waiting list of people looking for work, either in the fields or manning the stands.

"We don't really have to go looking for people any more a whole lot. They call us."

Truro Daily News

Organizations: RiverBreeze Farm, Sobeys, Daily News

Geographic location: Colchester County, Great Village, Florida Onslow

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