Friday, July 30, 2010
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.