Thursday, June 21, 2007

Someone give Billy Jack a hug

It's National Hug-a-Tonto Day! (otherwise known as National Aboriginal Day)
Billy Jack, for those that are wondering, is a Native American, Vietnam vet, hippie school saving, racism busting, sharpshooting, White House cleaning, hapkido jedi. Somebody better give him a hug before he goes on another vision quest.

These days of the SUV diet, you can find a clear cases of tasteless styrofoam nuggets dressed in red with little green leafy berets otherwise known as California strawberries all year round. Now, I'm sure that there are some wonderful, juicy, succulent strawberries grown and eaten in California but they don't show up on our store shelves. These erstaz strawberries have been bred not for flavour or texture but for looks and transportability. You might as well throw a couple of silicon boobs into these berries and slap on a hair weave, they're all for show. They've been bred to look pretty despite being picked 2 weeks before they show up on the grocery store shelves and after traveling 1500 kilometers up the coast. I am happy to boycott these botantical forgeries and wait for the local berry season to get my fill. Luckily, we have a some very awesome berry farms in this neck of the woods and it's now berry picking season.

Yesterday, I found myself on the south end of Nanaimo and so figured I'd pop by Dudink's Gardens for some strawberries. Dudink's Gardens is located at 2219 Gomerich Rd. Just follow the TransCanada Hwy to the south tip of Nanaimo. Turn right onto Minefield Rd. (keep your eyes open for the road sign, the exit is right after it). Follow down Minefield as it meanders through the backcountry of Nanaimo, passed fields, over train tracks and finally it will hit Gomerich Rd. Turn left on Gomerich and Dudink's Gardens will be on your right. They're opened from 8am to 5pm every day.

It was a fabulous final day of spring and just as I pulled in, a couple of kids with big berry stained smiles were lugging their buckets of berries out of the fields.

In the shop, I met Nick, who runs the farm with his wife. They've have over 20 years experience in the berry game and their love and experience shows in their produce.
Nick waxed poetic about how much he loved watching folks come in off the fields with their buckets of berries and big smiles and how he looks forward to berry season each year before assigning me a row of strawberries that I could pick from. The row assignment ensures that each pickers gets a good chance of finding a bounty of berries and helps them manage their crop.

Row upon row of juicy, ripe, just waiting to be picked berries.

A treasure of gems under leaf.

That one has my name written all over it. Always pick the berries with their green caps still attached. Once it loses it's cap, the berry begins to degrade.

Within 15 minutes, I managed to pick 2 huge baskets of strawberries and a few that happened to fall into my mouth ;) It's one of life's blessings to pick and eat a ripe strawberry warmed by the afternoon sun. It's the juicy embodiment of not giving a care in the world yumminess. You can't help but smile as you pick. It's part treasure hunt, part sunshine meditation.

When I was there, it was $1.85/lb or about $4 for a kilogram for U-pick berries, a total bargain! Nick says that they'll be bringing in a freezer so there will be frozen berries for sale soon too.

For those that don't want to pick their own, there are baskets and flats of picked berries. Dudink's grow and sell a range of berries from blueberries to gooseberries. They also have seasonal vegetables and nursery plants.

So grab a couple of light containers (ice cream pails work well), throw a bunch of berry pickers in the car and head down for some berry therapy ;)

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