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Friday, June 14, 2024
Strawberries and community make for a great festival
Doug Dineley and Steve Smith have a great relationship, something that helps the Strawberry Festival run smoothly when sourcing the fruit. JULIA SACCO
Steve Smith and Doug Dineley walked The Lake Report through a strawberry field and explained just how many hands go into making the St. Andrews Strawberry Festival run smoothly. JULIA SACCO
Juneberries are used for the St. Andrews Strawberry Festival. Their short self life means strawberries have to be delivered as close to the festival date as possible. JULIA SACCO

Gathering enough strawberries to supply an entire festival takes a village — or in this case, a town with dedicated volunteers.

It’s strawberry season in Niagara-on-the-Lake and with that comes the St. Andrew’s Strawberry Festival. This year, it’s on June 22.

Since 1985, the church has hosted its annual super sweet festival featuring freshly made jams, crepes, shortcakes, frozen yogurt and strawberries available for purchase. 

Doug Dineley, spokesperson for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and a founding member of the Strawberry Festival, caught up with The Lake Report at the Pillitteri family’s Seaway Farms, one of the festival suppliers. 

Joined by strawberry farmer Steve Smith (who’s married to Eileen Pillitteri), Dineley walked through a strawberry field where the Juneberries, the traditional Ontario strawberry, are grown.

“The Juneberries are the best for jam and homemade recipes,” Smith told The Lake Report. 

The sweet variety is the most popular because of its powerful flavour, but they don’t have a long shelf life, he said. 

For the Strawberry Festival, Juneberries are the fruit of choice. 

“We need a lot of strawberries and these taste better,” Dineley said.

The strawberries used in jam arrive four or five days before the festival, so church volunteers can make the jams as fresh as possible.

“The day before the festival we start slicing 90 flats of strawberries in order to do all the different strawberry shortcakes, the crepes and the yogurt,” he said. 

That’s not including the fresh strawberries up for sale. 

Dineley said the church gets around 20 flats of strawberries on the Monday before the festival for jams, around 80 flats on Friday for baked goods and treats and another 200 flats on the Friday night before the Saturday sale. 

On festival day, it takes close to 100 church volunteers to pull it all together. 

Seaway Farms supports the festival along with Tigchelaar Berry Farms in Vineland and Dineley said these community connections make all the difference. 

“People like Steve, he loans us his truck and cold storage. Kenny Hunter, he picks up the strawberries for us,” he said.

“Everyone goes to bat for each other.”

The St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Strawberry Festival is Saturday, June 22, beginning at 9 a.m. 

It will feature the usual sweet treats, peameal bacon on a bun, live music and a silent auction. Admission is free. 

juliasacco@niagaranow.com

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