Written by Art Petrosemolo
Depending on when you are reading this, you may have recently enjoyed your last fresh strawberries of the season or will very, very soon.
For some farmers, moderate early morning temperatures combined with just the right amount of rain early in the spring, resulted in a strawberry crop for the books. Just ask Curvin Nolt of EverFresh Produce on Division Highway (PA Route 322) who was picking—with wife Lena, children and groups of Plain Sect teenage girls—upwards of 80 flats (8 quarts) a night for weeks. When he had a big order to fill, besides stocking his farm store, they picked 150 flats between the end of early supper and the last of the May and June sunlight.
Sadly, as happens every banner year, some strawberries were left in the field when the wholesale price dropped too low to make a profit picking berries.
I was an every-second-day visitor to EverFresh, usually at 7am before they opened for business, to stock up. And sometimes, on Mondays when they had to pick early as there was no picking on Sunday evening, I was in the field with them picking my own strawberries in the 6:30am range.
But when you probably started eating your first fresh strawberries the second week in May this year, I had been eating local fresh strawberries for almost eight weeks. “Can’t be” you say, “Art. Where did you get fresh strawberries in March?” Well, the answer is “It’s a secret!” I may have shared fresh strawberries with my Sycamore Springs East neighbors then, but they didn’t know where they came from. I called it the secret farm.
My secret farmers started growing strawberries in their heated greenhouse during Covid and I found them by accident, on a shortcut back to New Holland from the North, and enjoyed a few weeks of their strawberries in 2021. But this year I stopped in early March to ask “when” and we were taking berries home by the middle of the month with an early spring variety. They sold the berries at $4 a pint and I told them for strawberry lovers like me, I would have paid $8 a pint. For six weeks I made a point of stopping at the farm for four pints for myself and some for neighbors a few times each week.
Just imagine fresh, local strawberries on your cereal or with ice cream or eaten right from the carton in March! And no, I’m not sharing where and saving this guy for 2024!
The first garden strawberries were bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s and were a cross of berries from a berry brought from the North America and ones from Chile. The fruit is widely appreciated for its characteristic aroma, bright red color, juicy texture and sweetness and is popular everywhere. Some berries bloom longer into the summer—even in the heat—and farmers stretch the short season on the front end if they grow them in greenhouses or high tunnels.
I am sure you are wondering how many berries I bought and consumed this spring and what did I do with them? My wife Tina and I estimate I purchased about 75 quarts of strawberries from EverFresh Produce since early May and the prices were in the $5-$6.50 range and varied by demand.
I bought strawberries for neighbors and friends and gifted some too. But besides eating strawberries three times a day, I made three double-batches of jam in May that amounted to about 55 half-pint jars. I had a few jars that didn’.t seal in the processing that went right into the refrigerator. In general I had a great year and my head didn’t swell too much when even my Plain Sect friends—Amish and Mennonites both—said I got it right!
For a few years my favorite berry was the one-season Chandler strawberry. This variety doesn’t seem to be as popular this year. Most of the berries I purchased, ate and turned into jam were Earliglow and Flavorfest and I couldn’t tell the difference.
I don’t freeze strawberries like many in the Plain Sect communities do. I eat them fresh, make jam or wait until next year. I hope you enjoyed the bountiful harvest this year and look forward, like me, to 2024.