“They’re turning red right in front of us,” Alf Krause said as he plucked a strawberry from a plant on their 50-acre farm on 248th Street.
He and his wife, Sandee, own Krause Berry Farms and Estate Winery, and this begins their “crazy busy” season, as Sandee calls it, where the farmgate operation opens full-time and the customers come in droves for u-pick and ready-picked berries.
“The strawberry season is about a third in, and we’re looking forward to a good crop,” Alf said, expecting it will be a little lighter than some years, but still good.
While some in the industry are calling this a late season, Krause clarifies the berries are right on time.
The past two years, the season was early due to warmer weather, but “now we’re back to a mid-June start,” he said.
He describes the current weather as an ideal mix of rain to plump up the berries and make them flavourful, while also offering just enough sun is ripening them.
“We’ve got a great bunch of strawberries right now,” he said, walking through one field located just outside their public marketplace.
Berry production follows roughly a two-week cycle each summer, he explained. In about two weeks, he expects raspberries to be ready, followed by blueberries, blackberries, then the late summer strawberries and raspberries.
“Every two weeks, another berry starts. They cooperate and fall in line and if they don’t, we have a talk,” Alf joked.
He explained further about the later strawberry harvests, noting he started experimenting a quarter century ago with the late summer strawberries known as everbearing strawberries.
Now about half of his crop is harvested in August and close to 80 per cent of the growers in the Fraser Valley have both types of strawberries.
For Krauses, they’ve been farming for more than 40 years, expanding to more farmgate sales in about 2000, then constructing the marketplace in 2006, and adding the winery in 2012.
They have a 50-acre farm attached to the marketplace, plus own and rent another 150 acres nearby to help facilitate all the different fruits and vegetables they grow.
While they continue to diversify, Alf said 45 of the 200-acres are dedicated specifically to strawberries.
They now operate with a seasonal staff of about 200 people working between the fields as part of the growing and harvest team through to the marketplace with servers, bakers, and sales.
While always striving to diversify and stay current with consumer demands, Sandee said everything they do has to revolve around the food they produce on site. That includes the educational components added into every aspect of the children’s play areas, through to the ice cream bar, the winery, the bakery, the marketplace, the new garden bar opening up this season (where people can get fresh fruit and veggie drinks), the new field dinners experiences being hosted Fridays and Saturdays by gourmet chefs, and the new farmer’s table cooking school also coming soon.
Sandee is always overjoyed when she can spare a moment to step out front and greets customers of all ages as they’re coming in.
It brings a smile to her face, she said, when she sees children leaping from their cars and making a mad dash. They’re typically looking to hit the fields for a u-pick festival with the family, making a beeline for the KB Corral Waffle Bar for one of their daily berry waffles, or trying to beat everyone to the porch restaurant for a corn on the cob or berry shortcake.
“I never dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing,” said Sandee, a mother of six and grandmother of three. “But it’s so great to see all that we can create from what Alf grows. People love it, and that encourages us to do more.”
Big win on the wine front
The farm just experienced a “huge” win on the wine front.
The winery just won a double gold medal in the soft fruit dessert class, as well as best fruit wine of the year award, for their for their Cassis label.
“There were 1,401 entries in the overall compeitions, with 873 entires coming from B.C.,” Sandee explained, noting 360 of the medals were awarded to B.C. entries.
“For us, that’s kind of spectacular news,” Sandee told the Langley Advance. “We are honoured to receive the award for the best fruit wine of the year, and feel extremely proud of our winemaker, Sandee-Lee Kiechle, for this achievement.