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Manitoba berry picking season uncertain amid coronavirus

Click to play video: 'Boonstra Farms preparing for berry picking season' Boonstra Farms preparing for berry picking season
Boonstra Farms preparing for berry picking season – May 1, 2020

Businesses across the country are feeling the financial burden of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and with summer around the corner, seasonal businesses are waiting and watching as safety measures continue.

The pandemic may mean berry picking — a summer tradition for many — is likely to look different in Manitoba this year.

Manitoba’s Boonstra Farms, just outside of Stonewall, says it hopes the tradition continues, albeit with a few adjustments.

READ MORE: Popular St. Norbert farmers’ market moves to online/in-person hybrid due to COVID-19

Owner Murray Boonstra tells Global News the company is already planning to change how it operates with the need for social distancing.

“We’ll have people out there telling them which rows to go to so that they stay safely apart from everyone and the people in the next row to them,” he says.

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According to Boonstra, 30 customers per trailer would typically head out to a field to pick berries, but this year, he says, customers can expect a “drive-thru” instead.

Click to play video: 'Get Gardening: Growing Fruit Trees' Get Gardening: Growing Fruit Trees
Get Gardening: Growing Fruit Trees – May 27, 2019

“We’ll hand them the baskets, and they can drive directly out to the field where we’re picking,” Boonstra says.

Plans for the upcoming season are still in the works at Connery’s Berry Farm, just southeast of Portage la Prairie, but owner Beth Connery says the business is looking to open.

READ MORE: Manitoba farmers set to begin historic seeding season

But like Boonstra, she says it’s likely not going to look like past years.

For one thing, pickers may be asked to make an appointment before their trip, and Connery says the farm might look at closing off every second row on a rotating basis to promote social distancing.

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Either way, Connery says the farm will be selling pre-picked berries this summer.

Prairie Berry Farm’s Jen Turenne expects pre-picked orders to pick up this year but also plans to open up for pickers.

To keep the numbers down, though, like Connery’s, she says picking trips will be by appointment only.

“Previous years, it’s first come, first served, but that creates large amounts of people and crowds, so we will have to reduce the amount of people coming to our farm at once,” she said.

“We will also have rules such as limited amounts of people in the field and no more eating strawberries right out of the field.”

Turenne says the farm, which is 10 minutes south of Winnipeg off of Highway 75, may also set up at different locations in the area for pre-order pickups.

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That’s an approach Jeffries Berry Patch is looking at, too.

Owner Roland Jeffries says his business is likely not going to open for pickers this year unless things are looking more positive over the next month or two — he doesn’t want to risk the health of his staff.

READ MORE: What’s open in Manitoba amid the coronavirus pandemic

Instead, he says he’s looking at possibly offering home deliveries in major centres, taking orders and then bringing pre-picked berries right to customers’ doors once a week or so.

The farm, just east of Portage la Prairie, will also be set up along the highway to sell produce through the summer and may look at freezing berries to sell through the winter, too, Jeffries added.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces gradual reopening of non-essential businesses, non-urgent medical procedures, outdoor spaces' Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces gradual reopening of non-essential businesses, non-urgent medical procedures, outdoor spaces
Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces gradual reopening of non-essential businesses, non-urgent medical procedures, outdoor spaces – Apr 29, 2020

But it’s not just the lost revenue from pickers that’s got Boonstra worried.

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May is usually the month when school tours of their farm start up as well, Boonstra says, but with no chance of having kids visit this year, he expects to take a major financial hit.

“In three weeks, we have to make our entire livelihood for the year, and boy, something like this could really stamp it right out pretty quickly,” he said.

His son and daughter-in-law just bought into the farm this year, and Boonstra says they can’t afford to take the financial hit if people don’t show up to pick berries.

Boonstra and all the farms say they normally open for berry picking around the start of July.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Winnipeg partnering with co-op to boost food security, opening ‘food hubs’ for farmers

While he admits he’s never seen anything like this in his nearly 30 years of farming, Boonstra says he remains cautiously optimistic.

“It always seems to work out OK; even when we’ve had some bad years where the crop wasn’t very good, everything seems to find a way of evening out.”

The farm also holds a corn maze in the fall, along with more school tours, but Boonstra says he’ll be patient before deciding if those plans will still go ahead.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba’s economic reopening ‘isn’t a return to normal,’ says health official – May 4, 2020

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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