I took the day off work and went to The Big'r Apple on Heritage Road to pick strawberries. I've been coming to this place for over 20 years. They have the biggest, brightest, sweetest berries, they keep their fields clean and bug free, and they very kindly offer an outhouse for your convenience. They're also super nice and friendly people.
I spent three and a half hours picking 63 litres of berries in glorious sunshine. The weather was perfect - breezy and cool, the sky a spotless blue, just the right temperature for picking. I loaded up the car with red juicy jewels, dreaming about the shortcake and milkshakes to come. The only sound was the occasional redwing blackbird and the soft murmur of my fellow pickers consulting each other. One fellow told me he's been coming to pick berries for 45 years.
But he also told me that The Big'r Apple has been sold to developers, and after next year, they'll be out of business. I wanted to lie down in the straw between the rows and weep. I spoke with the owner, who - understandably - wants to retire, and needs a nest egg to do it with. His children apparently aren't interested in being farmers. His cousin who owns the farm across the road is going to do the same in a few years. I totally understand his position. But housing and bypasses cutting into this perfect corner of the earth? It's unthinkable. It's tragic. And it's short sighted. We are losing farmland at an alarming rate. With all these houses being built on our limited land resource, what do the people in those houses expect to eat?
As one elderly woman in the field today said to me, "Where will I go for my strawberries? I won't eat those awful things in the grocery store." I told her we should all chip in and buy a farm and I'd run it for them and they'd have free berries for life. I was only half joking.
But I know just how she feels. The sorry excuses for fruit coming from Chile and Mexico and China just don't meet the standard. They lack flavour, colour, nutrition - but more than that. They lack heritage. They lack locality. They lack history and connection. They lack joy. No old man in the future is going to remember wistfully how he took his children and grandchildren every year for 45 years to buy rock-hard berries from the Metro. No woman is going to wail at the loss of the latest limp shipment from Chile. The loss of this farm hits a lot of people right in the heart.
While I know the farmer deserves his retirement, I hope he knows the meaning his farm has had for so many people, the memories he has created, the happiness he has contributed to. I don't know the man personally - today was the first day I've spoken to him - but I love him and his family for feeding my family for all these years.