A small, white truck with colourful strawberry decals plastered on its side bounces down the edge of a field in Chilliwack.
Bob Shoker parks his ‘strawberrymobile’ – a 1990 Toyota HiAce truck – and gets out, wearing sunglasses and a sunhat. Light-brown dirt marks are visible on his dark pants.
He has a loud, but cheerfully pleasant voice. He’s full of pride and passion as he speaks about his family business, Shoker Farms.
“You look at a strawberry and you get a glow on your face… eating a strawberry, letting it mush in your mouth and all the sweetness comes out. There’s nothing like local strawberries.”
Behind him are some of their 15 acres of fields. Their Unsworth Road location is one of the bigger groups of fields in Chilliwack where they grow strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and corn.
Shoker Farms has been in Chilliwack for nearly 50 years, growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, including one million pounds of rhubarb last year alone.
But strawberries are their specialty, Bob said.
It’s been a family-run business for its entire 48 years. It began when Bob’s dad Ajit Singh Shoker and mom Manjit Kaur Shoker moved to Chilliwack from Punjab, India, in 1974. One year later, when Bob was just a year and a half old and learning how to run, Shoker Farms was born.
Now, Bob, who is the youngest of five siblings, and his brother Bill run the show. But, Ajit is still involved and likes to drive around checking things out.
“It’s in his blood, he’s been doing it his whole life,” Bob said.
Strawberries are the most consumed fruit in the world, he said. At Shoker, they grow different types of both everbearing and June-bearing varieties like Albion, which he describes as a “nice, medium, firm berry;” Puget Reliance, which is dark in colour and sweet; and San Andreas, which are some of the first strawberries of the season.
“Strawberries are such a beautiful crop. You keep maintaining them, keep renovating them, keep feeding them, and they keep producing for you.”
They sell what they harvest at fruit stands throughout Chilliwack and local produce stores. The strawberries are even shipped as far away as Calgary.
“You pick the berries and within 20 minutes it’s at the fruit stand. You can’t get fresher than that,” Bob said.
This year, they’ve opened up a fruit stand at 46825 Bailey Rd. in Chilliwack. Other locations are Lickman Road north of Keith Wilson Road, and Giesbrecht Road at Vedder Mountain Road.
Peak strawberry season is from early June to the end of July.
“We want everybody to enjoy the strawberries while the season lasts. We put a lot of energy and effort into this. It’s a big demand.”
Labour is an issue, he added, and so they did a trial run of a robotic strawberry-picking machine last year that they’re introducing to the crops this year.
The machines are by Neupeak Robotics, a B.C.-based agriculture automation startup. The wheeled robots have two arms and a container on top. It rolls down the rows and gently picks the fruit from the plants. It can work day and night. The company charges farmers a fixed rate per pound of strawberries collected.
Decades ago, Shoker Farms offered U-pick and had about three times the number of acres due to high demands from processors.
But those processors are now gone and Bob admits it’s not easy being a farmer.
“But the rewards are good… seeing people eat, kids enjoying it and getting their vitamins in,” he said. “Feed the world one strawberry at a time, one blueberry, one (cob of) corn, whatever it takes.”
For more, check out Shoker Farms on Facebook, or contact them at 604-824-1541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.