Explore Local Regional Producer Profiles: Erna's Berry Farm and Country Cafe

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Erna Varekamp grows beautiful rows of saskatoons (two varieties) and black currants as well as rhubarb, raspberries and a few different varieties of cherries southwest of Bow Island, Alberta. Customers come to Erna's to enjoy picking their own berries in the orchard, eat delicious homemade meals that Erna herself creates in the cafe kitchen and play a round of mini golf in the extensive play area between the patio and the berries.

You can visit the U-Pick during the summer to pick your own berries. As well, you can find Erna's Berry Farm products for sale at the cafe, at the Rolling Pin Bakery in Bow Island and at the many local area craft fairs during the Christmas season. The best way to learn more about Erna's Berry Farm and Country Cafe is to check out her Facebook page.

Why she started Erna's Berry Farm and Country Cafe

Erna started her U-Pick operation in 2008. Back then it was just the long rows of berries, a picnic table, a tub of soapy water for people to wash their hands and jugs of water and lemonade for thirsty pickers. During those early years, Erna's community of loyal customers kept encouraging her to expand the service side of her business. Erna, dedicated to the customer experience at her farm and an excellent cook, applied for a permit to put up a building on the site which would be transformed into her cafe. She uses this space to create the delicious jams, jellies, juices and sauces from her harvest and also serve wonderful breakfast and lunch dishes to hungry customers.

Her role in the community and relationship to customers

Building a U-Pick business from scratch takes a lot of determination, communication and overall, the creation of a quality experience. While Erna does send out flyers to local area mailboxes and places ads in local papers when the season opens, much of her business comes from her happy customers telling their friends and family about their experiences at Erna's Berry Farm and Country Cafe. Her local community is very supportive and many of her regular customers come from Medicine Hat, Bow Island, Taber and the scattering of small towns and hamlets in-between.

Erna also fulfills berry orders for other local businesses including sausage makers and bakeries. In order to fill these orders, Erna relies on a team of rotating local pickers. On average, a picker can collect at least 2.5 buckets of saskatoons an hour.

Erna's Berry Farm products

While saskatoons are the main draw for the local community, Erna's black currants are almost always already sold before they bloom. Many customers looking to pick black currants call months (even seasons) in advance to book a row for themselves. The main draw of these berries is their ability to be made into fantastic juice or black currant wines and the customers who love them, love them a lot!

In the late hours of long summer evenings, Erna makes a variety of products in her cafe kitchen. Currently she produces between 30 and 40 different kinds of jams and jellies. She also makes delicious berry juices, syrups and bbq sauces. When preserving, she doesn't always limit herself to what comes out of her orchard but sometimes chooses other fruits to mix and match. Each year she makes a trip to BC to collect huckleberries and blackberries that don't grow in Alberta and will often combine her berries with other fruits (often from other BC orchards) in her jams and jellies.

Her vision for Erna's Berry Farm and Country Cafe

The customer's experience is really at the forefront of Erna's dream for her business. She wants to continue to build the farm into an agritourism destination. This season she's already begun work on a campsite where she hopes to one day build cabins. She would also like to continue to provide new attractions for customers by establishing a field maze on the surrounding land and incorporating a few new crops into her orchard, like red currants. On the top of her list, is to expand the small kitchen the cafe operates out of and insulate the cafe so she can open up earlier in the spring and stay open later in the fall.

“It's relaxing out here. It's quiet, it's nature... I want the customer to have a relaxing experience. - Erna Varekamp

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Mimi Lee.
This document is maintained by Delores Serafin.
This information published to the web on December 2, 2016.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 30, 2017.