Friday, July 30, 2010

Berries Galore!

This beautiful summer weather whets the appetite for fresh fruit and vegetables. Just a short drive into the rolling hills of Oxford County, there is a bustling hive of edible activity at Sheldon Berries farm.

Ray and Peggy Sheldon bought the 50 acre property at RR#3 Lakeside in 1992. On a family outing that year, Ray saw bush blueberries for the first time and realized that the acidic soil on his farm was perfect for growing the luscious fruit.

He planted his first acre in 1993. I did not realize that it takes the plants 4 or 5 years of growth before they will yield a crop of any amount, and 6 or 7 years before they produce well. After that, as long as you prune out the old wood each year in March, they will keep producing forever. Having a blueberry farm is a long term investment. At about $10,000 an acre to plant and with a wait of at least five years for the product, the word "patience" takes on new meaning!

A few years after planting his first acres, Ray decided to also invest in raspberries. Over the past 18 years the farm has continued to develop and is now a thriving business employing eighteeen to help with picking, plant maintenance, and manning the store, where one can get buckets for picking or buy the produce itself. Beginning with strawberries in June, the season runs through to November, featuring the berries, but also rhubarb, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash, gourds and pumpkins. The blueberry season which is at its peak right now, will run until mid-August, and the fall raspberries, just coming into their prime,will be available until early November under the high tunnels which help to keep them dry and protected from the cold.

In addition to fresh produce, the store carries frozen fruit, preserves, raspberry/apple juice, and fresh honey from the 26 hives that Vince Bryans from St. Mary's keeps on the property to help with pollination.

Ray supplies produce to the markets in Grand Bend, Exeter and St. Mary's, as well as to Woolfy's, McCully's and the Gentle Rain. In the fall, Food Basics and Canadian Tire carry his pumpkins and squash. With 10 acres of pumpkins, he does have a few to spare!

Regular customers across south west Ontario make their way to Sheldon Berries each year, coming from as far as Wiarton, Listowel, Palmerston and of course the more local communities. Many tourists also enjoy the country experience.

To get to Sheldon Berries follow Hwy 7, cross the Wildwood Dam and turn left at Hwy 119 to Medina. Turn left and continue until you come to the 27th Zorra line, the first road east of Lakeside. Turn right and watch for the sign. Call 1-519-283-6025 to find out what crops are current. Store hours are Monday to Saturday, 9 - 6.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stratford's Own Music

Stratford Summer Music is filling the air with guest artists, but last Friday night (July 23) at St. James Church, we were treated to a concert by four very talented teens from Stratford and area. The concert was a fund raiser to help with their ongoing studies in the fall.

Jamie Klassen, a very accomplished pianist, will be attending the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. As well as amazing us with his nimble fingers and sensitive interpretation of the classics, he also served as accompanist during the concert. He will be sorely missed in Stratford, not only as a pianist, but in his role as Operations Manager for the Stratford Symphony Orchestra.

Mimi Liu, as well as being a fine violinist, has a passion for social justice. Through her vision, Vivace Student Music was organized in 2008, finding instruments and providing lessons for students who could not otherwise afford them. This fall Mimi will be studying International Relations at University of Toronto.

To hear Daniel Ramjattan playing classical guitar was a joy. His virtuosity on the instrument made it obvious why he us a popular performer. His interest in music is diverse as he also teaches for Vivace, and plays electric guitar with the local alternative rock band, Thirsty Wench. He will no doubt excel in his musical studies at University of Ottawa.

Victoria Melik from Kitchener will be attending Wilfred Laurier's Music Program. She was a joy to watch both for her technique on the violin, and for the way the interpretation of the music shone through her face. She provided an extremely rousing and fun end to the two-hour program.

Once again, I feel blessed to live in Stratford, where people are so willing to share their talents. Good luck to these four talented students as they head off to pursue their dreams.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SSM Opens With a Bang

Once again, Stratford Summer Music got off to a great start last night, with perfect weather for the concert on Tom Patterson Island.

At the bottom of Nile Street, we caught sight of a flotilla of dragon boats, festooned with banners and sparkly streamers, preparing to accompany the Summer Music Barge down the river, with the St. Mary's Children's Choir on board ready to entertain the crowds.
As we meandered towards lower Queens Park, tunes from the concert wafted over the evening breeze...jazz, rock, singers, bands. Those who paid for the seats on the island were treated to a varied concert with CTV anchorman Lloyd Robertson as Master of Ceremonies.

The higlight of the opening every year is an orchestral composition accompanied by fireworks. As it grew closer to 10 o'clock, the crowd of onlookers continued to grow. Stratford, as I've said before, loves a chance to party. So our citizens young and old crowded both sides to the river, the hill behind the theatre, the route along Snake Hill, and balconies of houses and apartments in the area, all taking part in their own way in the celebration of the opening night of the 10th anniversary of the Summer Music Festival.

Kudos and many thanks to John Miller and his associates who work so hard to bring quality musicians to the city every summer. Do try to get out and enjoy the fun.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Knight

Another hot Saturday afternoon. I was walking home from a visit downtown when my eye was caught by a yard sale at the home of Susan Murar, the artist whom I have introduced to you before (See April 16, 2010). A 13th Century knight beckoned me to visit.

He wore chain mail, an authentic helmet, and had a grizzled face that looked like it might come to life before my eyes. Human hair from an old swordsman added a further touch of authenticity. Placed at the front of her display like a guard, he stood with vigilance as he would have so long ago.

Susan is an artist who works in a wide variety of mediums. If you would like to connect with her, call 271-8396.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Fun Begins!

If you are lucky, you will be able to take in the opening of Stratford Summer Music with the orchestra playing on the island while fireworks split the air at Lower Queens Park on Monday night around 9 p.m. Then the fun begins! Until August 22, Stratford will be humming with music, much of it free and all of it very affordable. If you need to watch the budget, or you would like to expose children to a fun concert series, head down to the War Memorial for the next 5 weeks at 12:30 from Thursday to Sunday. 3:00 p.m. performances are added on the weekends. Take a picnic, sit on the grass and enjoy the "Barge Music". The Langley Ukelele Ensemble who are playing next week are truly amazing. Plan to arrive early to get a good spot on the lawn. Ben Heppner will also be in town performing from Tuesday to Saturday at St. Andrew's Church for a mere $35. On Friday and Saturday evening, Pazzo's will feature "Jazz Legends" from 9:00 to 11:30, and the Church Restaurant will host a "Saturday Night Live" cabaret starring comic singer Bruce Dow. You can find more information about these and other concerts at

I will be out and about during the Summer Music Festival, so will try to keep you informed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

St. Mary's Heritage Festival - A Stratford Connection

This morning I went to St. Mary's. I have always appreciated the beauty of the buildings there.

But today there was an extra enticement. They were celebrating their Heritage Days. The streets were filled with activity - vendor's stalls, entertainment, kid's activities, music and groups of friends out enjoying the beautiful day.

On the north side of Queen Street my eye was caught by an artist standing in a store window sketching. The door was open so I wandered inside and discovered "Creations" an intimate art gallery featuring the work of the artist, Mark Czajkowski, his parents Mary and Ed, and other local artists who submit work to display.

Born in Stratford, Mark began to draw as a child, and when he sold his first sketch at Art in the Park here in town for ten cents, he was hooked. He has been painting ever since. Now a recognized Canadian artist, Mark is a carpenter by trade. He worked in the props department of the Stratford Festival for about 5 years before starting up Czajkowski's Creative Carpentry.

As well as working in wood, his carpentry has taken him into creating with steel. A few years ago he built the intricate Tir Na nOg gateway off of Downie Street in Stratford. His newest creation, a Remembrance gateway by the War Memorial in St. Mary's, was unveiled yesterday.

It is quite lovely and worth the drive to see.

As well as being an amazing creative artist, Mark is a delightful person to meet. I encourage you to add a trip to St. Mary's to your summer itinerary. Drop by Creations Art Gallery.

If you time it right, Mark just may be painting in the window. He tells me he paints there an hour early in the morning and about an hour after his day at work.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Garden Visits

My Stratford is a place of beauty where local citizens take pride in their gardens. Today I went on the annual "Garden Tour" run by the local Horticultural Society.

It was indeed a treat to get a glimpse into the various havens that people have created: peaceful oases, interesting plants, rich combinations of colour and texture. I always have a sense of awe when experiencing the creativity of mankind, but it definitely adds to the pleasure to have it displayed under a sunlit blue canopy with a gentle breeze to occasionally cool the wanderer,

the trickle of fountains to soothe the soul, and the sweet scent of blossoms.

It was an opportunity to glimpse masterpieces formed in conjunction with the Creator himself.

Thank you, Stratford, for opening your private gardens for us to enjoy.

July 1 - A Time for Celebration

My Stratford is a place that loves to party.

Canada Day dawned bright and sunny with a cool crisp breeze. On Market Square, behind the City Hall, a tent city quickly took shape. A stage and sound system were set up, vendors arrived, banners were strung, the scent of delicious food filled the air, and hundreds of volunteers donned red T-shirts and took their places. As noon hour approached the square began to fill with people.

By the time we arrived at 12:15, the place was bustling and we were lucky to find a seat under one of the huge shade tents that had been set up.

Bronze stars were presented to the four citizens being honoured this year...Peter Mansbridge and Cynthia Dale by the city, Christopher Plummer and John Hirsch by the theatre. You will find the stars of former recipients embedded in the pavement on various streets around town. A spirit of communal festivity reigned as entertainment packages from Judy's Dancers, a Jazz trio, Emm Gryner and Steven Page were interspersed with greetings and a lively banter from CJCS radio host Ethan Rabidoux.

Shortly after 5:00 the crowd dispersed to get ready for the parade and evening festivities at the SERC site, culminating with another amazing fireworks show. The planning committee outdid themselves this year. Thank you for all the hours that went into the party!