Sign of summer

by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

"There are Nova Scotia strawberries here."

These were words that lifted my heart last Saturday. The coming of Maritime strawberries is a sure sign of summer, and that it happened on the actual first full day of summer this year was just a bonus.

I don't eat California strawberries, not through any extreme locavore tendencies, but because their flavour is too pale to tempt me to shell out for them. Even if I'm not paying for them, eating them is a disappointment: like moving closer to get a good look at flowers that turn out to be plastic.

One of the joys of living on P.E.I. is the extra-long strawberry season. The Nova Scotia berries come a week to 10 days ahead of P.E.I.'s, giving us close to a month of peak season.

Maritime strawberry boxes are iconic. (CBC)
While I was happy to be greeted at the market with news the season had started, I didn't need to be told. I would have noticed instantly myself given the box. Strawberries from outside the Maritimes invariably arrive in pressed green paper or plastic boxes. Maritime strawberries, and only Maritime strawberries, are packed in boxes made from thin strips of wood.

It has been this way for decades and has become, entirely by accident I'm certain, branding as recognizable to me as the Coke button. So I was disappointed to see while many of the Nova Scotia strawberries came in wood, some were in green, pressed paper boxes. As it turned out, the man at the stall in the market knew why.

A distant relative of his used to make these boxes as part of his business, but not any more. Farmers are becoming reluctant to use the wooden boxes, which cost a few cents more than paper.

I'd hate to see this sign of summer go. I know times are difficult for farmers, and a few cents a box can add up, but I hope Maritime strawberry farmers will take note of the importance of having a product that is instantly recognizable.