It’s berry season, and the perfect time to spend an afternoon picking your favourite fruits at places across the Valley. Ferme Giroflée is an organic blueberry farm in Hemmingford that offers around 20 different kinds of blueberries. This year, its U-pick opened earlier than expected due to an early blueberry season.
Benoit Coulombe, owner of Ferme Giroflée, explains that the farm “is a destination for people to come and enjoy nature, to have contact with it, so that they can smell it, see it and touch it [and] enjoy its beauty.”
At this farm, they work hard to preserve the land. They have forests and wetlands with small animals, amphibians, and bees. “It’s an ecosystem that we’ve preserved; and we’ve adapted our culture to protect it, to protect biodiversity. We’re in complete symbiosis with the environment,” Coulombe says. He adds that they chose to be organic because “I wanted a perennial, healthy, abundant crop. I wanted to propose a solution and demonstrate a counter-current culture, because I want to change the standard farm model.”
Ferme Giroflée has been open since 2014. When Coulombe arrived, the land was not in any state to be planted in berry bushes. He explains that many people told him that growing blueberries on the land would not be feasible. However, he was determined to make it work. “We removed several tons of rock and roots. And we buried roots and organic matter in the soil to allow it to regenerate through composting. We worked the soil for four years in some places before planting blueberry bushes.” Though it was a huge financial risk, it paid off, and they now have 6,500 plants on 6.5 acres.
This year, blueberries were ready much earlier than expected. “Some plants were harvested two weeks earlier than normal. We had planned to open to the public on July 15, but we had to open on the 8th for pick-your-own, because our fields were ready. If we didn’t do that, we’d lose money and food.” They told people on social media that the farm would be open early so that they wouldn’t lose the fruit that was coming in so quickly.
The weather played a big part in the harvest this year as well. Coulombe explains, “There were frosts, so we had less fruit. Some of our flowers froze. With the amount of rain we’ve had, which is three to four times [more] than normal, blueberries have never been short of water. What this did was to reduce the fruit load, increase vegetative growth, and increase fruit size.” This has culminated in berries that are huge and very sweet this year.
This farm has many varieties of blueberries. Something interesting that grows there is the Corymbe [highbush] blueberry. “The highbush blueberry is a variety developed for its shrub-like appearance, with plants ranging from six to eight feet tall, and the way [the berries] grow in bunches. Corymbe means ‘in bunches.’ The highbush blueberry is a giant blueberry, not just the plant but the size of the fruit,” explains Coulombe.
He says that picking your own fruit is about more than just enjoying fresh food. “It’s about reconnecting with the very essence of being human by picking your own produce, because it’s buried somewhere in our genes. It’s also about finding ourselves in a moment of peace and saying, ‘this is what life is all about.’”
The farm is open for visitors to come and pick until the end of August.