It’s July and time to visit the blueberry patch. My father and mother started these visits as a family tradition years ago. They would go down the hill from East Burnaby, travel the highway across the Coquitlam flats, take the Mary Hill cut-off beside the Fraser River, cross over the Pitt River bridge and then turn left off the Lougheed Highway onto what is now called the Old Dewdney Trunk Road in Pitt Meadows. It’s an area of rich flat farm lands protected from flooding by dikes built along the Pitt River, the Fraser River and the Alouette River, all running beneath the peaks of the Golden Ears Mountains to the east. My parents met in nearby Hammond, a mill town by the Fraser River now incorporated into Ridge Meadows. In those days, this historical road through the farmlands was known as just the Dewdney Trunk Road.
Once my parents found the farm which they considered the best local blueberry producer, they’d buy forty pounds of freshly picked blueberries at a ridiculously low price, and take them home. Some they gave to their friends, the bulk they flash froze in their freezer for the winter. On my next visit to the west coast, I would load a camp freezer full of their frozen BC blueberries and haul them back to Toronto as my checked baggage on the airplane. All winter, my BC blueberries reminded me of home.
The tradition continues. On Thursday of last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to Pitt Meadows to get some blueberries, now for our Vancouver cottage. I googled “blueberry farms in Pitt Meadows, BC” and went with a list of local producers. I chose a couple that sounded great and set out to find them.
The first was the Middelveen Farms. When Old Dewdney Trunk turned at Harris Road, I knew that I should turn left. Then I drove along Harris, straining to read the street numbers on the farms I passed. But I was driving too fast, the road was narrow, there were too many cars, and I soon realized that I had missed the address I was looking for. When I saw a makeshift sign offering “local blueberries here,” I drove into another farm and bought twenty pounds of berries from the couple I found there in the barn. I knew nothing about the berries except that they were freshly picked and at $2.50 a pound, they seemed like a bargain. I decided that I would buy some from them and more from the others when I found them.
Then I turned around and very slowly retraced my steps looking for Middelveen. This time, I pulled the car over as close as I dared to the deep drainage ditch beside the road and put on my lights to warn others that I was travelling slowly and likely to turn.
After several stops and starts, I finally found the correct address and turned into the spiffy expanse of the parking lot in front of the well-kept home at Middelveen farm. Kerry Sully and Tom Middelveen, the son of the original owners who came to Canada from Holland, greeted me warmly but said that their family farm was primarily a “pick your own” operation.
They have seven varieties of blueberries which ripen at different times during the blueberry season. Sparkling clean white buckets are available for pickers. Tom drives pickers into the fields on his little green ATV, a Kawasaki Mule. When he tells newcomers that they would be going for “a mule ride,” children expect to ride on a donkey and parents enjoy the joke. The charge for blueberries is $2.00 a pound if you pick your own and $3.00 a pound if Kerry picks them. But they’d just sold their last picked berries for the day and had none left. Tom sampled the berries I’d already bought and thought that they were Spartans. He also used his smart phone to help me find the location of the second farm I’d chosen.
It’s a good thing he did. The second was Meadow Berry Farms on Wooldridge Road which was apparently on the south side of the Lougheed Highway, quite some distance away. When I finally found it, I drove into the front yard of what seemed to be a huge operation. There was a modern house at the front, greenhouses at the side, two huge buildings at the back and several parking lots all around. A sign on a door indicated that all visitors and drivers were to “use the front door” to report to the office upstairs. The only door I saw was the door to the house, so I knocked several times but there was no answer. The second building was much larger, and had several loading docks with a large transport truck parked in front. That building was in the midst of construction, with a row of would-be doors or windows framed into what looked like a second storey expansion.
A woman appeared in one of the openings and shouted at me that I was not to take photographs on the property. “This is a closed farm,” she said. I had no idea what “a closed farm” was. There was no sign barring entry at the gate. I explained that Meadow Berry Farms was listed on the internet and I was looking to buy some berries. She replied, “that’s Google, not us,” and Meadow Berry doesn’t sell to people like me, “we sell to the Superstore.” I beat a hasty retreat and left.
I still needed another twenty pounds of berries. So I returned to Old Dewdney Trunk Road and turned into the first farm I saw that had a sign for “fresh farm blue berries” and presented as welcoming to drive in customers.
I drove down a dirt road beside the field at back and found owner Davinder Thiara busy wrapping five-pound baskets of blueberries for repeat customers. He sold his berries at $2.00 a pound and was more than happy to sell me what I wanted. He told me that he has three varieties of blueberries: Dukes which ripen early, Blue Crop which are ready mid-season, and Elliotts which ripen later, are less sweet but have better anti-oxidant qualities. When I told him about my experience at Meadow Berry, he explained that they were a large wholesaler which sold blueberries all across Canada and that I would probably find the “Meadow Berry” label in stores in Toronto. Apparently, the local wholesalers also flash freeze blueberries for export to Asia.
Who would have guessed that a trip to the blueberry patch would open such a window into the blueberry industry? Clearly, the production and sale of blueberries is big business. No wonder. I think blueberries are the best fruit around. All who avidly ate all the blueberries I didn’t freeze agreed. Apparently there are several varieties of blueberries and the season extends to September. Enjoy.
- Middelveen Farms: 13472 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2T3, (604) 459-8764, www.middelveenblueberry.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hinda Farms: 18947 Old Dewdney Trunk Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2R8, (604) 465-2310, email@example.com