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Wholesome Pickins Market & Bakery in Delhi: The Celebration of the strawberry

Can you think of anything better than a bowl of delicious, fresh strawberries on a beautiful, warm sunny day?

For David and Jenn VanDeVelde, owners and operators of Wholesome Pickins Market and Bakery, nothing makes them hap-pier than providing customers with the very best product.

“You can’t beat a farm fresh strawberry. It’s a whole different experience than a grocery store strawberry,” says Jenn.

But the VanDeVelde farm hasn’t always specialized in growing strawberries. In the early 1930’s when Archie and Mary VanDeVelde came from Belgium, they planted tobacco and this business thrived for many years. It was Archie’s son Joe and his wife Mabel who took over the farm. Next it went to Joe’s son Jerry and his wife Brenda, who then passed the farm onto son David and his wife Jenn. David and Jenn have two children: Ryan is 13 and Emily is 11.

In 2005, David and Jenn began growing strawberries. Having met at the University of Guelph, where David graduated in Agriculture and Horticulture, and Jenn earned a Bachelor of Science with honors, the couple decided to transition the farm into a new growing course.

“I’m a big believer in education,” says Jenn.

Left to Right: Ryan, Dave, Jenn & Emily

On top of her involvement in running the farm, just two years ago Jenn was still an active high school teacher of math and science.

“University gives you lots of skills besides what you learn in books. We’re running a business, we’re doing a lot of paperwork, we’re doing a lot of research into varieties and their growing methods. These are all skills we learned in university,” explains Jenn.

Today the VanDeVelde farm spans 250 acres with 25 acres dedicated to fruit. Tobacco is still grown, along with soya beans, corn, asparagus, pumpkins and squash.

What is extraordinary is that the VanDeVelde strawberry crop is picked from late May till mid October. That’s almost 6 months of strawberry heaven! The farm grows five June-bearing strawberry varieties and one Day-Neutral variety. June-bearing strawberries grow for 4-6 weeks from June till early July. Day-Neutrals are picked from late May till mid October.

What makes Day-Neutrals so unique is their capacity to flower and fruit continuously. This is attributed to their insensitivity to daylength which normally controls flower initiation. These plants form flower buds under any daylength and continue to grow as long as temperatures are suitable.

Wholesome Pickins grows the following five June Bearing strawberries: Annapolis, Mohawk, Jewel, Valley Sunset and Governor Simcoe. The Albion variety is their choice for their Day-Neutral strawberry. The VanDeVelde’s use the following five varieties for their raspberry plants: Prelude, Nova, Killarney, Chester and Polka.

Hand-picking their produce, the VanDeVelde’s employ 20 foreign workers from Jamaica during their high season and then an additional 20 locally sourced workers. In 2010 a brand new market was renovated and in 2013 a bakery was brought to the farm that employs 4 full-time and 1 part-time staff. The market and bakery is open from Easter to Christmas. The choice of made-from-scratch and all on-site baked goods is intoxicating. From fruit pies, loaf cakes, cookies, tarts, squares and muffins, the choice is massive. Fruit, veggie and dessert trays are also offered. Ready-to-go meals and soup and sandwiches are available daily. As supporting local is so important, the market carries Jensen Cheese, VG Meats, Kernal Peanuts, Harmony Hives Honey, Picards, SteelHead Food Co., Heritage Lane Herbs, Hewitt’s Dairy, Cider Keg, Woodly Green-houses and Creekside Growers.

Just recently the VanDeVelde’s sold their second market location that was in Scotland, Ontario at the corner of Windham Road 3 and Highway 24. Jenn tells the purchasing couple plan to operate a brewery out of the location.

Jenn and David are very pleased with the farms location. Being on route to Lake Erie on the East side of Delhi, the location is also advantageous for traffic. As Norfolk County is known for having the best horticulture in the province, its sandy soil provides great drainage which is a big component for crop success.

Two growing techniques that the VanDeVelde’s use for the success of their fruit is the use of floating row covers and plastic beds.

Floating row covers protect young crops by making a mini greenhouse. Row covers are made from spun-bonded or woven plastic, polyester or polypropylene material that is placed over plants to exclude pests, protect from wind and frost, and retain heat. These covers are still permeable to light, water and air.

Plastic beds are very beneficial for water retention, weed control, and an earlier and more consistent harvest.

“The soil is made into a raised bed and then the plastic is laid over the bed. We plant four rows of strawberry plants in each bed by hand and they grow throughout the season and into the next season. The black plastic is for sections of the field we want earlier in the season and the white plastic helps to cool sections of the field for the hot summer months. The use of both of these help to provide consistent harvest through the whole season,” explains Jenn.

As much as strawberries are a superior tasting fruit, Jenn shares that they are a very labour intensive endeavour.

“We are at the mercy of the weather. If there are late frosts, we lose early pickings,” Jenn says. Consequently, the importance of great staff is vital. “We need a lot of good people who are skilled,” explains Jenn.

Using advanced methods of sustainable berry cultivation, har-vesting and packaging is import-ant to Jenn and David. Using drip irrigation and crop rotation are two ways they do this.

“Decreasing water usage and giving the land a break keeps our soil replenished,” tells Jenn.

As the VanDeVelde’s have a strong belief of in-service for both their industry and in their community, their service mindedness has had them heavily involved in the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association. In the past Jenn served as Vice-President and David served as Treasurer. Presently David is the current Chair of the Ontario Flue Cured Tobacco Marketing Board. Wholesome Pickins Market and Bakery is located at 500 Church St. E, Delhi. 


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