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iron bridge, ontario

Gerald and Marla Lauszus, with Marla's mom, at the strawberry stand outside Iron Bridge, Ontario.

Just outside Iron Bridge, Ontario, Gerald and Marla Lauszus were working their strawberry patch. They call it Strawberry Fields.

It had been raining off and mostly on in Ontario for two weeks after two months of drought, and the berries were ripening fast.

"We're two weeks early," Gerald says of his crop, "but as you can see the berries are beautiful."

He should have been in the movies - an impossibly handsome guy, like something out of Steinbeck.

They have two hectares and sell berries out of an old school bus parked in the middle of the patch.

With the berries being early, before the tourists start stopping by, there weren't many people picking.

They've owned the patch for 15 years. Gerald used to manage a poultry farm, but lost his job: now he's looking to buy a dump truck.

There was work for anyone who had one. Meanwhile Marla made money as a mail carrier and as a crossing guard. They had a kid in university and another in high school. As I say, like something out of Steinbeck. There were three other U-pick operations in the area.

Every year Gerald and Marla lay in 20,000 new strawberry plants, half Annapolis strawberries, and the other Governor Simcoes. Both are firm, colorful berries, though they did have a susceptibility to powdery mildew. Then again, who doesn't?

The plants cost 5 cents a piece. Of those, 500 never came up.

Still, it's money in hand. Depending on the year you can get anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 pounds per hectare, Gerald said, and that meant a profit of at least $10,000 a year - more if the weather cooperated.

"We don't like to spray as much as you should to control some of the stuff," Gerald says. "Because the pesticides are dear, and we don't like them, and the public don't like them."

He gave me a tour, and I bought a quart, and put it on the floor by the front seat of my car. I ate strawberries all the way to Sault Ste, Marie.

They were delicious, but every time I ate one, I was glad I wasn't Gerald.