(MIke Lascelle photos) (From top left) Freshly harvested cranberries, cranberry wine, Sam Sullivan on the boom and hummingbirds feeding at the winery entrance.

Gardening: George and the family berry plan

Pitt Meadows family’s farm roots go back to 1925.

I didn’t know it at the time, but wherever I looked, be it the harvesting of the cranberry fields or the Blue Heron Winery itself, or even in the conversations of those present, there always seemed to be the subtle influence George Flynn, the family patriarch.

Around Thanksgiving, a regular nursery customer came into the store and told me that they were harvesting cranberries just down the road at the Blue Heron Winery.

Since I happened to have my camera, I drove down on my lunch hoping to get a few photographs. What I found was a joyous family reunion with young cousins taking a boat ride in the flooded cranberry fields, the men moving the booms into place in order to gather the floating berries and women gathered on the raised berm acting as the collective foreman.

While the dazzling visuals of a cranberry harvest are one of those picture postcard moments, the coming together of generations of one family at one place at one time was what really left an impression on me, like it was planned that way.

As the story was told to me by Katie Sullivan, George’s daughter, this family’s local farm roots go back a long ways, to 1925, when her grandfather, John Austring, arrived in Pitt Meadows.

After working for the Alouette Peat plant, he tried to find a use for the harvested lands and decided that acid-loving blueberries were the perfect fit.

The first shrubs were planted in 1942 and by 1947, the Blue Boy Blueberry Co. on Ford Road became the largest operation of its kind in Canada, with John’s son Oscar helping and eventually heading the co-op for many years.

Not one to break with family tradition, George decided to dabble in another ericaceous crop – cranberries – and began test plots for soil mediums in the early 1990s.

By 1992 he was starting his first cranberries, eventually replanting much of the Old Dewdney Trunk site from the original blueberry crop.

The cranberries were quite profitable until the turn of the century, when overproduction across North America caused the wholesale price to plummet.

George then chose to diversify his business again by opening a fruit winery in 2004, and while this may just seem to be a good business decision, somehow it turned into a plan to keep the family together.

At 99 years old, George still grows his own vegetables and is able to enjoy his extended family with 15 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, particularly during their traditional Thanksgiving lunch.

His winery can be found at 18539 Old Dewdney Trunk Road, just yards away from the blueberries and cranberries it uses to make its wines, so the farm fresh stereotype really does apply here.

Cliff Flynn produces their cranberry, white cranberry (from berries harvested before they colour) and blueberry vintages, all in the back of the store.

Last but not least, here’s a holiday cranberry wine spritzer recipe for you to enjoy, provided by Katie:

• Combine one bottle cranberry wine, 500 ml club soda or ginger ale, 500 ml cranberry juice, two cups fresh or frozen cranberries and one sliced navel orange – chill and serve over ice.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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