We are part way through what has started off as a rather challenging harvest season. The recent heat wave has been unprecedented for farmers across Ontario. None of us can ever remember so much heat, without a break, at this time of year. Global warming? Climate change? Normal variability? Who knows for sure? Whatever the reason, it means the strawberry season is going to be a short one this year. What’s in store the rest of the way is anyone’s guess.
Since we’re just at the start of the harvest season, I’d like to take the opportunity to clarify, and clear up some misconceptions that may have arisen with the introduction of our new “Pre-Paid Picking” policy.
First of all, let me say the introduction of “Pre-Paid Picking” or “Promise to Pick” has been a direct response to:
1. the provincial minimum wage increase of 25%, and the associated legislation
2. the increased cost of fuel
3. the increased cost of electricity
Labour is the single biggest cost of running this farm. It accounts for almost 2/3 of total operating costs. And fuel and electricity are significant costs as well. Barrie Hill Farms employs over 100 people during peak harvest season.
The government has forced us to look at every possible way to be more efficient. But there are limits to what efficiencies can be achieved. All of our customer service positions require human resources. And so do our growing and harvesting operations. We have mechanized to the greatest extent possible. Robots to do this work don’t exist. And that’s OK. I enjoy working with people and providing meaningful summer jobs. And I don’t like self checkouts at the grocery store. I prefer the human touch.
But without a change, prices would need to go up drastically. And that’s not what I felt was right. I hope to continue making healthy, local food affordable for as many as possible. And for many years into the future.
So “Pre-Paid Picking” has been our attempt to mitigate cost increases and keep the business sustainable into the future.
How does it work? Simple. Promise to pick $5 worth of pick your own products per person (age 6 -96), if you take a wagon ride to the field. If you do, then your $5 fee is deducted at the checkout. We’re not checking birth certificates. That’s not what it’s about. Young children are the berry pickers of the future. Children are always welcome. But at a certain age, we feel it’s important for children to understand that the farmer has invested a lot in producing a crop, and therefore needs to be paid for his/her work. Use the wagon ride to show the kids the pipes, and all the equipment necessary to grow your food.
$5 amounts to roughly a quart of strawberries, raspberries or blueberries. Five pounds of apples. 7 or 8 cobs of corn. Not a lot. A mom, dad and two kids would pay $10. A basket of strawberries. A couple of quarts of raspberries or blueberries. So in most instances, you are simply paying in advance for what you’re going to pick. No extra charge. Just a promise to pick some product if you’re going to the fields. And if you choose not to pick, and only wish to take a wagon ride to the field to see how the crops grow, take some selfies, or simply enjoy the ride, then we feel $5 is a reasonable charge for a ride in the country sunshine. Especially at apple time when the apples & pumpkins are ready, and the fall colours are at their best.
So it’s not about charging more. It’s about being unable to provide free services (wagon rides, clean farm, clean restrooms, tidy picnic area) for customers who are not picking our crops in the field, unless we drastically increase our prices for all. And that’s not what I thought was the best way forward.
So I’m hoping this has clarified any misconceptions there might have been. Have we done a good job of educating during this transition? We’re trying our best. Maybe our best hasn’t been quite good enough, and if that’s why there’s been some confusion, I apologize. We will continue to educate and familiarize you during this period of transition.
And if you’ve been hearing that rumour going around for quite some time, it’s not true. The farm has NOT been sold!! I hope to remain “Farmer” Morris for many more seasons.
Hopefully, you will stick with me, my family and the rest of the team, as we try to keep growing healthy food for you and your families for many years to come.
Barrie Hill Farms
Barrie Hill Farms is a second generation family farm, owned and operated by the Gervais Family, that grows over 200 acres of fruit and vegetables.
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