Driediger Farms in Langley has been in the U-Pick business for over 35 years. Distributing fresh and frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants, and rhubarb, the 160 acre Driediger Farms is a big player in the BC berry industry. While we enjoy the fruits of their farmers’ labour, what happens behind- the-scenes often goes unknown.
Given U-Pick season has now come to an end, we decided to contact one of our favourite farmers, Rhonda Driediger, owner of Driediger Farms, to get an inside scoop on the life of a berry farmer throughout the whole year.
BLEN: What does an average day on the farm look like?
RD: I usually start around 5 am with emails and then texting to staff and customers around 6:30 to 7:00 am. I have found that you can work smarter not harder when using a smart phone and a tablet. We try to plan out our activities a few days in advance and around weather so the staff know what they are doing. I am in the office around 8:30 and manage the farm from here but I do check in on the fields and the Market from time to time.
BLEN: What happens on the farm when berries aren’t in season?
RD: We have 160 acres to attend to so this fall we will be planting 14 acres of raspberries, removing a few acres of strawberries and raspberries for replant, repairing irrigation lines, working on equipment and getting ready to shut down field operations for two months. We start pruning blueberries and raspberries in mid-January and it usually takes about 6 weeks. Strawberries and raspberries are planted in the spring. We have been under construction for four years so we are looking forward to having things slow down.
BLEN: How do you feel about the local food community? You stock a lot of local food products in your market. Is this something you’re passionate about?
RD: We try to carry as much BC product as possible when it comes to gift wares, honey, candy products, etc. But for produce like field veggies and Okanagan fruit, we only carry 100% BC grown products. It is something that we have become known for and I think people like the fact that they can still support local farms without having to drive to each one of them.
BLEN: Your U-Pick farm is a really popular attraction. When and why did you decide to open up your farm to the U-Pick program?
RD: My mother, June, started the u-pick idea in BC around 1976 because she was overwhelmed with people that would stop by on the road and want to buy or pick fresh strawberries while she was dealing with the commercial pickers. She placed a small ad in the local paper for u-pick and the next day had hundreds of cars full of people show up. She was out in the field with my aunt, Hilda, until about 9:00 at night. We put up a simple garage structure at the Market’s current location and after a few years, a more permanent stand. We have approximately 70,000 people that come through the doors now who want to buy direct or pick their own.
BLEN: How do you suggest keeping our berries fresh and tasty for as long as possible once we bring them home from the farm?
RD: All berries must be refrigerated immediately, especially strawberries and raspberries. They cannot be left in the garage or on the deck overnight as they will start to breakdown quickly. Best to get them home, cleaned and into the fridge or freezer as soon as possible.