'People want local berries'

The plump, fruity treat that Thunder Bay-area foodies start to crave in the early days of summer should be ripe for picking in about 10-12 days, says the region's main strawberry producer.
"Mother nature runs the show, so that's about as precise as we can get at this point," a Belluz Farms bulletin said this week.
The upcoming season marks the 50th year the Slate River Valley farm has been growing and selling strawberries, which remain the operation's "bread-and-butter" crop, farm spokeswoman Jodi Belluz said on Thursday.
Belluz said picking may have been able to be underway earlier this season, given the mild winter, if not for substantial rainfall this month.
"It can stop raining anytime now," she chuckled. "We've had a lot of rain all at once."
The farm reserves 15 acres for strawberries, which usually provides enough fruit for three weeks of picking.
Last summer was a banner season, as "perfect weather" that was neither too cold nor too hot provided five weeks of picking.
Belluz said that's never happened before. Berries are normally ready for the first week of July, but Belluz said she recalls one summer when they didn't become available until July 17.
"We can usually count on three weeks, and hope for four," she said.
In big grocery stores, "ever-bearing" strawberries that come from California or southern Ontario greenhouses are available even in winter.
Californian brands have been cheaper of late because of excess supply due to ample rainfall in that state following several years of drought, according to U.S. news media reports.
Belluz maintains out-of-country varieties can't match the flavour and sweetness of Northern June-bearing strawberries, which benefit from a slower ripening process.
Though large operations can offer lower prices in stores by keeping production costs down, Belluz said "that doesn't really impact us."
"What we've found here, is that people want local berries," she said. "We've got that particular flavour."
More information is available online at belluzfarms.on.ca.

Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Chronicle-Journal