Three years after Genevieve (Greif) Stafford began a 10-acre U-pick saskatoon berry farm north of Prince Albert, she and her husband, Will, expanded into agriculture tourism with a corn maze and a variety of other fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, and Prairiehardy cherries and apples.
The decision to purchase more land and expand their operation was made shortly after the birth of their first child in 2004 when career changes were made due to circumstances affecting Genevieve’s position with the provincial government. Today, Will’s job as a computer specialist in Calgary means the family spends the winter in Calgary and Genevieve manages the orchard during the summer. “Hopefully within four or five years, once the orchard gets into full production, he’ll be able to be here full time. Our two children, Kaelum and Athena miss him now when he has to be away so much,” she says.
The Staffords currently have about 25 acres in saskatoons, another 25 in cherries, about five acres in strawberries and about three in raspberries. While strawberries and raspberries have been producing for several years, the apples and cherries will need a few more years to reach maturity and get into full production.
The Staffords’ educational background (Will has a horticultural background, and Genevieve has a bachelor of science degree) goes hand in hand with their current endeavours as fruit growers. “It helps to know where to go for information and research,” Genevieve says.
The couple’s location, 32 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert is ideal for summer traffic going to Candle Lake. “We hope to capitalize on that. U-pick is great in that people pick their own. The drawback is that we don’t know if we’ll have enough fruit to meet the demands. It also means we have to be here all the time. With the berries and the corn maze, we’re basically open to the public 12 hours a day, seven days a week, four months of the year. We have no staff except we sometimes get a horticulture student from France through a university program there. First-year students have to do an out-of-country placement,” she says.
For Genevieve, the orchard is full time, and despite the workload, she enjoys the freedom her work provides. “The benefit is that I can be home with the children, especially now when they’re young. I’m my own boss, although the field drives what I’m doing. I set my priorities day by day. I’m now able to get out and help; before it was my husband doing all the field work while I was with the children.”
Genevieve says she doesn’t see the U-pick or an operation like this being something for everybody, but feels there would be a market for the fruit if people wanted to get into the commercial production aspect. “If there were a number of producers in any one area, each with perhaps 20 to 30 acres, then mechanical harvesting becomes more feasible as well. There is definitely a demand for the locally grown fruit, especially the saskatoons and the cherries.”
For more information about the Staffords’ orchard, G2S Pickin’ Patch Inc. phone (306) 929-2091 or e-mail [email protected]
Edna Manning writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan