While my family in Pennsylvania braved the first winter blast, I was lucky enough not only to find myself in Florida but on a strawberry farm! Thanks to Sue Harrell (aka Strawberry Sue), Marketing Director for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA), the Produce for Kids team was treated to a day filled with strawberries.
During the winter (late November through the beginning of April), about 95% of all U.S. strawberry production comes from or around Plant City, FL. The FSGA not only provides support for the strawberry growers, they act as the liaison between the farmers and the grocery retailers, promoting Florida strawberries with in-store signage, event support, online marketing, social media and more. In addition, the FSGA works closely with the University of Florida to develop new varieties of strawberries along with best growing practices that can be shared with its members.
Perhaps the highlight of our trip was meeting David Spivey, fourth-generation farmer of Spivey Farms. David went to school to be a meteorologist but could not shake his love of farming. Today, he handles all of the sales, operations and marketing at Spivey Farms, and his passion for the strawberry industry is contagious. David showed us around his farm from the fields to his cold storage facility which allows him to control the berries all the way to shipping. His wealth of knowledge of strawberries, and farming in general was amazing and I left believing that I may be able to start a strawberry farm in my own backyard!
While farming may not be in my future, I was very thankful to David, Sue, FSGA’s Executive Director Kenneth Parker, and their entire time for spending the day with us and sharing their passion and strawberry knowledge.
Here are some more great tips we learned from the experts:
- Strawberries are picked every 3 days (2 if the weather is particularly hot).
- Don’t look at the color when picking ripe strawberries – instead, make sure they are fully red from tip to leaves.
- Strawberry plant varieties are grown from the plant’s runners, not the seeds. If you were to plant a strawberry seed, you would grow a new variety.
- If you’re growing strawberries in your garden, make sure to trip those runners. Doing so helps keep the plant producing fruit.
- Ever heard of strawberry onions? These onions are usually grown on the perimeter rows of the field and help ensure proper picking processes. They are left to grown and are usually available at the end of the season during U-Pick. Some say these onions are the sweetest available.
- Never wash your berries when you bring them home – wait until you are ready to serve them. Strawberries are extremely delicate and excess washing or handling will soften them quickly.
- The clamshells that strawberries come in have been painstakingly designed to keep the berries lasting the longest they can once picked. They are also great for holding Legos, ribbons, and other household odds and ends. So next time you bring strawberries home, upcycle those cartons!