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about inferior fruit or misleading advertising can get around like wildfire. “Social media is something you have to be aware of, as is customer service.” This year, he said there were a few days when there simply weren’t any berries available, so he had to tell customers there were none ripe, so there weren’t any available to sell, but he said most customers understood and they were back the next day. Those who went elsewhere were also back, he added with a grin. Zylmans said he also grows early varieties because the early bird gets the worm. “When people think of summer, they think of strawberries, so you want to have fruit available early. Later fruit has to compete with other local fruit such as raspberries, blueberries and apricots.”


Zylmans grows Puget Reliance as his top berry because it has great flavour, then Tillamooks and then Totem. “I checked with my customers and they remember the flavour even if the berries were smaller. They remember flavour before size.”


Flavour is our ace in the hole, he believes. “We have flavour and it’s all we have going for us.”


Because the local B.C. berries are vine-ripened the flavour is much better than those imported earlier in the year, although some of those are now much better than they used to be.


Zylmans plants every year and picks for two years before re-planting. His wife and daughter sell the berries, so it is the farm family’s faces people are greeted with when they arrive on the farm. He makes occasional appearances in the market as well.


He admits that it’s a bit wearing to have to grin at people all day, but, he says, “Being nice pays the bills. It’s work, but it’s part of the marketing strategy.


“Lots of farmers are not very social, so it’s not easy, but today people want to meet the farmer, to know who grows their food,” he says.


After the strawberries have all been sold, the on-farm market is closed for a few weeks, re-opening to sell vegetables as they are ready to harvest. While Bill’s father owned 80 acres in the 1970s, Zylman now has a 500-acre farm. “Diversifying is important,” he advises. They grow strawberries on just 17 acres now, compared to 55 acres in the 70s and 80s. His returns on 15 acres of strawberries today are as high as they used to be on 50 acres.


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As well, the Zylmans grow vegetables,


seed potatoes, hay, straw and potatoes on W&A Farms.


“Farming has changed. We used to grow things and sell them. Now we have to sell it and then grow it,” he says.


He forecasts a continued downsizing


of the strawberry industry in B.C., but believes there will always be an industry.


Even his strawberry acreage is likely to decrease somewhat, he says.


“You have to be able to change with


the times.” Zylmans has been farming that plot of land in Richmond all his life and was picking berries as early as he could walk. He has always had a love affair with the tractor and bemoans that fact that today he mostly just gets to buy, sell and fix them instead of driving them as he used to when he was a kid. “Farming is always what I wanted to do. I’ve enjoyed every day. Not many people can say that.”


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