Open Friday – Sunday 12pm – 6pm
Shaftesbury Trail, Peace River, AB T0H 1W0
For many in the Peace Country, and beyond, July means one thing: Strawberries from Bridgeview Gardens. How long would you drive for the ripest, plumpest, freshest strawberry you can imagine? An hour? Oh, please. Two? That’s more like it. Eight hours? It’s been known to happen. When the strawberries are ready to pick at Bridgeview Gardens Shaftesbury, no distance is too far.
“We see people from High Level, La Crete, Fort St. John and Edmonton,” says Bridgeview Gardens owner Mike Marusiak. “We even know people who come from Calgary every year. I believe they have relatives in the Peace, but they try to visit when the strawberries are available.”
At a time when strawberries can be purchased practically year-round at any supermarket, how do Marusiak’s strawberries inspire such devotion? Part of the answer is tradition. He’s the second generation of Bridgeview Gardens and many of his customers who visited as children now bring their own kids to the farm every July.
Another reason is the quality of the berries, not to mention the vegetables and corn that also grow on Bridgeview Gardens’ 50 acres. There’s also the experience of picking your own food which connects town and city people to the land. A similarly rich experience awaits visitors to Peace Country farmers’ markets, where Bridgeview Gardens also markets its products from time to time.
Marusiak believes another factor is that the art of canning fruits and vegetables is making a comeback. People who love to preserve fresh produce naturally want it as fresh as possible. Mind you, the folks who eat their strawberries straight from the basket feel the same way.
“To me, the value is in the quality of the produce,” says Marusiak. “We believe ours is a little better and a little fresher than you can get at the supermarket. When you see produce in the supermarket, what you don’t always realize is, it took a week to get there.”
Visitors, especially from more southerly points in Alberta, are often surprised to see corn growing at Bridgeview Gardens. Marusiak attributes his success with corn to the micro-climate that prevails in the area around his farm. His location offers the right combination of warm temperatures and abundant summer sunshine.
A generation ago, strawberries weren’t quite the summer craze they are today. While Marusiak’s father grew them, vegetables were a bigger part of the business then. Strawberries rule the roost now, but Bridgeview Gardens’ cucumbers and other vegetables also have their fans, especially among price-conscious consumers.
“Lots of people don’t realize that 90% of the items we have here are cheaper than in the store,” says Marusiak, “and as you can easily see if you’re here, the quality is better, too.”
Farmers who grow wheat or canola can count on a viable crop most years. That’s not the case with strawberries, where a week of untimely heat can easily wreck a year’s worth of income for Bridgeview Gardens.
Still, when the weather co-operates, the berries are ripe and the visitors are streaming to his door, there’s nowhere Mike would rather be. “We work long hours during the season, but that is part of the lifestyle,” he says. “It’s the same attraction that farmers feel about agriculture in general. Despite the risks, you are your own boss. You go hard, hopefully things work out and then once the season is over you know you’ve done something worthwhile. That’s a good feeling.”
Bridgeview Gardens expects to open for the season the first week of July. But of course, their actual opening depends on the weather. Call 780-624-1335 for hours of operation, crop availability, and directions to the farm. Then take a drive and savour the flavour of fresh, succulent strawberries, and more, at Bridgeview Gardens