Finding a parking spot at the farm was a challenge as the lunch hour approached on Sept. 24. As Allison Maher busily directed traffic, she said this situation is typical of any day on a weekend from the first of July into the fall. The farm is also open to the public on weekdays.
One reason the venue is so popular is the wide variety it offers. Visitors could pick their own strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pears, apples, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, yellow and green beans and nectarines.
Maher said that, as a consumer, she appreciates variety and they want to provide this to their customers. For example, most people don’t realize there are so many different flavours of cherries, peaches and blueberries. Dempsey Corner offers 12 varieties of cherries and seven varieties of peaches while the fruit is in season and there are five varieties of blueberries for visitors to “pick and chew from.” They have approximately 15 varieties of apples.
Maher said she has found that the more foods children are involved in harvesting, the more foods they’ll eat. It’s important to re-connect people with where food comes from. “If children go out and pick their own apples, they’re more likely to eat them than if they just show up in a bag, there’s no memory attached to that,” Maher said. “We have an entire generation that’s completely lost where food comes from.”
Although they have tourists who visit from countries that don’t grow potatoes, they see many Nova Scotians who don’t realize that potatoes grow in the ground. Maher has seen people looking for potatoes under the plant leaves.
She said the actual flavours of food are mitigated by age and transport. For example, corn eaten the day it’s picked is “sweet, fresh and fantastic.” After being shipped for five days, any produce is going to taste differently.
“We encourage everybody to try a cob of corn when they’re standing in the field,” Maher said.
Dempsey Corner Orchards Farm Market and U-Pick also features a tearoom, a sound garden, apple golf, a petting zoo and walking trails. They do tours and birthday parties.
Sophie Poirier of Cow Bay, who was picking apples with daughters Jade and Julia for the first time, said the petting zoo at Dempsey Corner was a deciding factor for their visit.
“They’re having a blast,” Poirier said. “We even got to feed the cows when we got here.”
She said the farmers were very welcoming. Poirier wanted her daughters to experience eating something fresh and local and to see first hand where their food comes from.
Over at Boates Farm in Woodville, there were several visitors picking apples and pears. Owner Brian Boates said it seems things are a little slow getting started this season because of how hot temperatures have been. People don’t seem to realize fall and the picking season have arrived.
Boates said things always seem to pick up at their farm when the weather cools. They have a wide variety for visitors to choose from, which helps draw people to the farm.
“We try to have six to 10 varieties of apples and pears at any given time,” Boates said.
He believes the u-pick concept remains popular because it’s a fun activity for families with young children. People travelling from the Halifax area like making a day of coming to the Valley. Visiting a u-pick is a way to connect with agriculture and rural life.
Boates said they’re open every day but he expects things will be particularly busy on the weekends as the fall progresses.