By Nick Fonda
For the last two decades or so, people from Richmond—and passersby—have been making a quick stop at the corner of Melbourne Avenue and Belmont Street from mid-June to early July to pick up a pint or two of freshly-picked strawberries.
The last few years, it’s been Mathieu Viens who arrives mid-mornings and deftly arranges a display of strawberries available in four formats: a pint, a three-pint basket, a four-pint basket, or a gallon and a half of berries in a crate, with prices ranging from $7 to $50 according to size. He’ll be at the corner till all the crates he’s brought that day—generally around 30—have been sold, normally by early afternoon. A few years ago, it used to be his father, Mario Viens, who did the same thing.
“I’m a fourth-generation strawberry farmer,” says Mathieu Viens. “My great-grandfather, Alce Viens, started our farm in Saint-Guillaume, and he passed it on to my grandfather, André. It was my father who started coming to Richmond. He was a friend of the former owner of this lot. The garage has changed hands since then, but the new owner continues to let us use this same small corner to sell our berries.”
Mathieu starts his working day early.
“I’m in the strawberry field by 5 a.m.” he says, “and I’ll pick till 6:30 or so. I’ll have between 20 and 25 pickers who arrive about the same time as I do. Almost all are students, although there’s a small firm in Drummondville that has asked if I’d like to hire pickers from Guatemala. So far, we’ve always hired young people from the immediate area. They’re paid by the crate but a good picker probably earns about $20/hr. For a picker, the workday starts at five and ends by 9 a.m. or so. By that time, the sun is up and starting to feel hot.”