Local Saskatchewan U-picks and a winery in need during COVID-19

Some berry good ideas for physically-distanced summer fun. Pexels

Is berry season in a jam?

Saskatchewan’s berry and fruit season is in full bloom, and one of the best ways to experience it this year is to visit a U-pick orchard or a winery. 

Around the province, different months will foster different kinds of berries, so June or July’s U-pick experience will be very different from August’s. Seasonal weather or exceptional events like flooding and droughts can also play a large role in determining the quality and quantity of the harvest. 

During a warm Saskatchewan summer just over a decade ago, I remember walking through the parallel rows of my local U-pick farm, in search of the most pristine raspberries and Saskatoons to fill my cracked ice-cream pail. I still remember a few shorter rows of golden raspberries which amazed me – no doubt due to my prior childhood experiences consisting of common red raspberries.

It’s a fact that kids love U-picks and it can be a great family excursion during this time where the world seems to largely be on some sort of hold. Just the other day I asked my four-year-old niece, “What’s your favourite part about picking berries?” “Eating dem,” she said, followed by a great big smile. Although she might not remember every berry she eats, she will likely remember the memories made at local U-picks with her family for years to come.

Only a half-hour from Regina nestled in the Qu-Appelle Valley is a popular U-pick orchard called Ol Mill Berries. They are known for having Saskatoon berries, raspberries, sour cherries, and even a few strawberries. Every day during the season from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. their fields are ready for picking.

When asked about how the current season is going, Amy Demyen from Ol Mill Berries said “2020 has been our busiest season yet.” 

Demyen believes that, “People are looking to spend more time outside or experiment in the kitchen with new baking ideas,” as a result of COVID-19.

Perhaps the best thing about a U-Pick farm this year is that they provide an open space for people to visit while they gather berries. It could be the perfect getaway for a date, or a family group looking to do something different together. If people wish to take it an extra step in terms of COVID-safety, they should definitely be washing their berries before eating too many and remember social distancing. Public beaches and parks have been very busy and regardless of how worried you are about the virus, eventually you’re going to have to go for a walk for your own health and a U-pick might be the perfect place if you’re worried about being in the city or on a beach full of people. Plus, there’s berries!

Another berry orchard just 14km east of Regina is the Very Berry Farm. They have been advocating for social distancing in their emails, as well as reminding people about the Saskatoon berries, sour cherries, raspberries, and rhubarb available depending upon the summer months you visit. What’s different about this orchard is that it is mostly functioning on an honour system at this point, where they have a “CASH ONLY” policy and they request that pickers, “bring [their] own pail.”

While it seems that many U-pick orchards are doing great this year, a winery on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River not far from Saskatoon has had a bit of a tough season. 

Wolf Willow Winery is an “organic fruit winery which produces Sour Cherry, Honeyberry, and Rhubarb wines as well as fruit wine beverages.” Jesse at Wolf Willow Winery says that they have “seen a 25-30 per cent drop in sales from last year,” which he directly attributes to COVID-19. To keep their customers safe, the winery has taken a number of precautionary measures.

“To accomodate the safety measures we’ve installed plexiglass between tables, limited table seating and service and we require reservations for all our dinner guests,” Jesse said. “These measures limit the amount of customers we can serve especially at peak times.” 

Additionally, the winery has had to lower its usual amount of staff due to having less customers and also as a double effort to keep more people safe. But this isn’t just a place to taste and buy wine. They also serve pizza and snacks, and have a campground with tents and teepees to rent. 

Their loyal customers have been really good to them Jesse notes, and he has even seen many new customers, but things are just not quite the same as usual. Perhaps a large number of these COVID measures have contributed to this “drop in sales.” 

Regardless, Wolf Willow Winery is clearly a business who took many measures to protect the local community, so hopefully sooner or later the community might return the favour by visiting the winery – especially knowing that this winery needs some help standing back up after COVID.

This summer, wineries, U-picks and all sorts of local food-based operations can be a great way to break out of the quarantine boredom, keep safe, and enjoy all the delicious local produce Saskatchewan has to offer. 

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