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Q&A with BC Blueberries

Posted by Kateland Clarke on

"The promotion that the BC Blueberry Council does is really helpful for helping all sizes of farms, big or small..."

When arranging my profile of the BC Blueberry Council I was put in touch with Wilhelmina, a blueberry farmer that works with the council out in Abbotsford. So one sunny Friday I drove out to The Fruit Basket, her little, 2 acre farm in the peacefully quiet and dramatically beautiful Fraser Valley. She has been working with the council for several years, as well as running her own fruit farms since the late 1970s, so you can rest assured she is well educated on all things blueberry! We sat down for a coffee break with her and the pickers, a mix of seasoned pickers who come back each season, u-pickers picking for their families, and children of all ages enjoying the fruit and sunshine. It really is a little slice of heaven!

It was fascinating hearing about the whole process, and hearing how on some years she has produced 10,000lbs of blueberries! Not each year is the same however, one year there were only 800lbs, and weather plays an enormous role in how well a year will go. This year is a good year, and started almost a month earlier than last year with the early summer we've had. But that's what the council helps with, they are constantly researching the best farming methods, and the varieties that perform best in our ever-changing climate, which is so beneficial for the farmers. The point that stood out to me most of all, is how Wilhelmina doesn't have to worry about the struggles of competing with the huge fruit farms, being a quaint, 2 acre, blueberry only farm, all farmers are promoted in the same way and receive the same resources, meaning everyone can work from a level playing field. So refreshing and encouraging to hear.

And I know you're all dying to know... her blueberries taste like no other! Why would you buy a pack from anywhere other than BC?! A million times more fresh and more delicious than any berry that has travelled hundreds of miles to get to you. With so many blueberry farms in our local areas, it's so easy to hop in your car and enjoy the sunshine, company and freshest berries around!

We have partnered with the BC Blueberry Council this blueberry season to bring three deliciously tempting blueberry themed cooking classes. Chef Jonathan Chovancek, Chef Calvin Pipping and Chef Annabelle Choi have each developed some extraordinary menus that will have you enjoying blueberries in some refreshingly different ways like a blueberry kefir cordial or atop fish tacos in a vibrant blueberry peach salsa, as well as some familiar favourites like blueberry and frangipane slab pie. And as if you don't need another reason to book in, every attendee will leave with a pint of local, BC blueberries and a stack of recipe cards!


How did you get into blueberry farming?
I started out farming strawberries in 1979 and then the following year we planted some blueberries and it's grown from there. We used to run a 26 acre farm, but now we run a small 2 acre blueberry farm that does us just fine. All our berries are chemical and spray free, it's all the berries that fall from the bushes that fertilize our soil!
What does a typical day look like for you in blueberry season?
It's an early start for sure! We start picking at 6am and pick until midday, after that it's too hot and the berries become too soft, so we start back up again in the evening around 5 and pick until 8.30. There are compulsory coffee breaks with lots of biscuits and blueberry baked treats of course!
How did you become a part of the BC Blueberry Council?
I used to work in the accounts department, but when an opening came up in the promotional side of the Council, I jumped at the opportunity! It's such a great job as I get to travel around to trade shows and conventions, to help spread the word about what the BC Blueberry Council does and how great BC's blueberries are!
How has that relationship helped you as a farmer?
The promotion that the BC Blueberry Council does is really helpful for helping all sizes of farms, big or small, to get there name out there and get noticed. They are also a great help with opening us up to the opportunities of new markets worldwide, China is a huge buyer of blueberries now. Plus the research they do into farming methods, different varieties of blueberries, and food safety means that we can always be on the top of our game and all work off a level playing field.
What is your favourite way to eat blueberries?
My favourite way is freshly picked early in the morning whilst it's still cold out, they're covered in the morning dew and just perfect! Or fresh and frosty out the freezer, there's nothing better!

To find out more about what BC Blueberry Council is up to, give them a follow on Facebook and check out their list of local farmers for u-pick here.

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