Clayton Fox (right) co-owner of Silver Rill Corn with sons Paxton (left) and baby Colton. Silver Rill Corn opened its roadside market on May 25. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Island farm stands opening for business with COVID-19 restrictions

Growers hopeful shoppers will support local farms

Vancouver Island farms are preparing for a robust farmgate retail season, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Shopping for corn at Silver Rill Corn farm will look a little different, says general manager Clayton Fox, but the juicy cobs of corn will be as delicious and filling as ever.

“We used to have a dozen people in there all grabbing corn at once,” he said. “Now you’ll just order at one place and employees will be bagging it up for you.”

Silver Rill is offering informal online and phone orders as well as curbside pickups. Shoppers who come inside for their produce will face familiar protocols: floor markers at two-metre intervals, customer limits and Plexiglas shields. Cold drinks and ice cream will no longer be available and customer seating is no longer provided.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island farmers hopeful despite strain of COVID-19 pandemic

Paxton Fox, whose father manages Silver Rill Corn, welcomes shoppers to the newly-opened market. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

“They won’t be shucking, they wont be visiting the goats, it will be moving quickly,” Fox said. “The experience is definitely not what people are used to here but the product is the same.”

With a smaller, local labour force, Silver Rill hasn’t been impacted by the shortage of foreign workers plaguing other farms.

While corn won’t be ready until July, the popular Peninsula corn farm opened its produce market May 26, and carrots, beets and berries are already flying off the shelves.

Slugget Farms is more than a month away from opening its farm stand, but co-owner Larry Slugget is feeling confident. He says other farmers, who have already begun direct-selling their produce, are seeing strong sales.

“The indications are that business will be up this year,” he said. “The public seems to feel safer going in to a local stand.”

Slugget Farms sells about one-third of its produce at the roadside stand, and the rest is produced for wholesale markets. Slugget and his brother do most of the labour. His only concern is whether Thrifty Foods will purchase as much sweet corn as it has in years past.

“That’s the one thing we’re a little worried about,” he said. “We’re worried they might not buy as much.”

READ ALSO: Saanich farm converts vegetable stand into veggie drive-thru as COVID-19 spreads

A hop and skip from Silver Rill, Gobind Farms has opened its doors to customers with fresh, luscious strawberries for sale by the carton.

The family farm is hopeful the community will continue to support local farmers and come out for fresh berries.

“Seasonal strawberries are ready and everybody loves local strawberries.” said owner Satnam Dheensaw.

Dheensaw’s sister and farm manager Sub van Kempen Seket is still unsure how the typically busy season will go.

“For our clientele that have been around for quite a while, they call in and find out if we’re open,” she said. “But I don’t know what kind of season it is going to be. It’s still a little bit uncertain.”

Seasonal berry farming across more than 90 acres of land calls for close to 45 workers by peak harvest. As of May 26, Dheensaw had only 16 workers on the farm. Dheensaw has reduced strawberry planting this year by 50 per cent as a result.

“When you have strawberries ready, you need a lot of people,” he said. “Every berry is picked by hand, it’s not machine harvested. It’s all packaged by hand.”

Find a farm near you at islandfarmfresh.com.

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READ ALSO: Vancouver Island University planting crops for Nanaimo Foodshare Society



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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Gobind Farms owner Satnam Dheensaw enjoys fresh strawberries with (left to right) daughter Simria, 4, niece Mya, 9, and daughter Jasmine, 5. Although they are feeling the impact of a foreign worker shortage caused by COVID-19, the family farm has begun selling its roadside seasonal strawberries. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

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