Who is Solstice Berry Farm?
The property came complete with a tiny older mobile home that would be our humble home for 10 years as we saved to build our dream home. Originally, we thought we would build a house in 6 months to a year after moving in. Boy were we wrong! But we cleaned it up, fixed a few things and it ended up being quite cozy and we made it our own. As we started out farming with basically nothing, not spending a bunch of money on building a house left us with a bit of cash to buy everything else we needed, like sheep and hay equipment! Our on-farm store now occupies the spot where the old mobile home used to be.
There be beasties here!
Shortly after moving in, our first big purchase was a flock of 100 commercial ewes. We love animals and the original dream was to have some sheep, raise some lamb, and continue to grow the hay that was established on the farm. With the gentle guidance of new friends, we learned how to make a decent bale of hay and we mustered our ewes and lambed out 250 lambs. It was blissful chaos!
Making Hay While The Sun Shines!
Over the years we continued to raise our lamb, and we also got really good at putting up premium hay for the export market. Most of that hay that got sold to Japan to feed their dairy cows. In the spring of 1997, we built our 10,000 bale hayshed which kept our hay in perfect shape until our buyers wanted to take delivery. Our hay not only went to Japan, but if you can believe it, also for racing camels in Abu Dhabi, and for race horses in Florida. This hayshed was a god send as it also doubled to keep our machinery out of the elements when it wasn’t full of hay.
The Start of the Saskatoon Chapter
After a number of successful years in the export hay business, we were looking to expand our hay operation, but the cost of buying additional land in our area was not feasible nor was there any available farmland close by for rent either. So, we decided we needed a change of direction for the farm. After a number of weeks of contemplation as to what the next phase would look like, at some point we noticed the 3 saskatoon bushes we planted in our garden a couple of years back were really thriving and producing lots of fruit. That was the eureka moment when we got out of the hay business and into the Saskatoon berry business. This is a photo of us seeding the rows to grass after planting our first saskatoon bushes you see as little sticks in the ground covered by mulch. This photo is of our U-pick field closest to the entrance.
Our first berry cleaning line
Believe it or not, this is how we cleaned and sorted our berries for the first number of years. The rotating drum got rid of small underripe berries, short twigs, etc. As the berries rolled down the table, we picked out the red berries or anything else that didn’t meet with our exacting standards. It was incredibly labour intensive. With four of us on the line working for about 8 hours, we could manage to clean and sort about 300-500 lbs of fruit. Our present day cleaning line can handle up to 5000 lbs/hour.
Cattle Barn Makeover
As our production of berries grew, we needed more space for equipment and most importantly, saskatoon berries! Our old cattle barn with a dirt floor got a complete makeover into our new packing building. We thought we add oodles of room! However, we added a walk-in cooler and freezer and a couple pieces of new cleaning and sorting equipment and discovered we had filled up the space a lot quicker than we had imagined. Oh well, it’s a step in the right direction.
Our First On-Farm Store
After years of struggling to clean and sort an increasing volume of berries by hand, we had to find a faster/better way. That way finally arrived when “Lucy” our optical sorter was delivered on July 4th, 2011. After the initial commissioning by the manufacturer, we used her that season for sorting. The sorter uses a color camera, 4 different kinds of lasers and compressed air to remove unwanted berries and other foreign material from the incoming stream of fruit. OMG, what a massive improvement! It really blew our minds. If you have ever seen the Chocolate Factory episode from the 1950’s series “I Love Lucy”, then you’ll understand why we lovingly call her “Lucy”. If you’ve never seen it, Click here to view it. It is a hilarious classic! The berries came at us far faster than we had anticipated and initially we couldn’t keep up with her. Now that we have adjusted to the increased speed, it has helped us to increase the volume of berries we can handle as well as greatly increase the quality of the fruit we produce. We were the one of the first, if not the first saskatoon berry farm in Western Canada to employ this kind of technology back then.
Our New On-Farm Store
After years of running the U-Pick out of a tent and then later, out of our cleaning and packing building, we finally got a new custom building built, delivered and setup for us. It’s actually a small cabin that suits our needs perfectly for a cute, little on-farm store. It came complete with a barrier-free handicap accessible washroom as well as space for all of our processed goods and an freezer and cooler for our pies and fresh berries as well as some other refreshments and ice cream treats for our customers. I think our customers really liked it too. Not having to use a porta-pottie anymore was a big plus!