June 2005 Issue
Ohio boasts an abundance of strawberry farms with summer treats that are ripe for harvesting.
Lori B. Murray
As the first ripe strawberries appear in their cardinal-red splendor, it's a sign that summer has officially arrived in Ohio. Forget about those worn-out berries that make the trek across the country from California. Ohio has some of the sweetest, juiciest strawberries to be found, and every summer Ohioans prove it with a host of strawberry farms and farm markets that invite visitors to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But with only about six weeks to capitalize on this delectable treat, there's little time to lose.
The best of berries
Although Ohio does not produce nearly as many strawberries as Florida and California, berries purchased locally are more flavorful. "[California] berries have to be picked green in order to ship them," says Ohio State University extension educator Brad Bergefurd. "These berries have been picked before their peak of ripeness. When you pick a green fruit, it will never make more sugar." The result is a berry that lacks that extra sweetness.
Because Ohio has a shorter season and less acreage, growers simply cannot meet the state's strawberry demands. As a result, it's not likely that native strawberries will be found in the supermarket. Instead, Ohio growers market their berries through farm markets and pick-your-own venues. "They can retail on the farm for probably $1 to $1.50 a quart more than a wholesaler wants to pay," says Sandy Kuhn, berry marketer with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "The berries are also highly perishable â€” yet another marketing challenge."
With all of these factors to consider, the answer for many growers is to attract buyers to the farm. Here in Ohio, that's happening in unprecedented numbers. Consider a trip to Stacy Family Farm in Marietta. Throughout strawberry season, Bill and Janet Stacy host a large number of school field trips. For $4 each, students watch a slide show on how strawberries are grown. Then they get to pick their own strawberries, go on a hayride, learn about the workings of a farm from Farm Bureau volunteers and, finally, gobble down a dish of strawberry shortcake. "We do it for the educational experience, because we don't make money doing this," says Janet. "Then the kids bring their parents and grandparents back to see the farm and pick more berries."
Folks may be flocking to the strawberry farm, but their approach is a bit different than it was 20 or 30 years ago, when you were more likely to see stay-at-home moms visiting farms for produce every day of the week. Today, most families pick their produce on the weekends, and it becomes more of a family outing. "It's a good experience for people in the city who don't get a chance to do that," says Steve Polter of Polter's Berry Farm in Fremont. "Parents come out to relive their glory days and show their kids a good time."
Still, pick-your-own accounts for only about 25 percent of all berries harvested at Polter's. The trend is to buy prepicked, and the added cost doesn't seem to be a deterrent. "The younger generation values their time more," says Polter.
Seeds of change
Bergefurd is developing ways to lengthen the growing season for Ohio strawberry farmers. His work with a new production technique known as plasticulture is helping to achieve that goal. While the traditional, matted-row system has worked for years, the new plasticulture method allows growers to plant in the fall and harvest the following April or May, about two or three weeks earlier than when berries traditionally are harvested. In the fall, the berries are planted on top of a big bed of dirt that is covered with black plastic. The plants never go dormant, but stay green all winter.
"Currently there are probably about 100 acres of plasticulture strawberries being grown in Ohio," says Bergefurd.
"They are not replacing the traditional matted method â€” just adding to it and extending the harvest period."
The Polters have 10 acres devoted to strawberries, and Steve Polter has been in the strawberry business his entire life. Along with his father Dan and brother Tony, Steve grows between 12 and 15 strawberry varieties each year. "The main reason to have different varieties is to space the season out and to not put all our eggs in one basket," he explains. "But the Jewel is the best all-around berry for us. It has good color, and it's one of the larger berries." Jewel berries typically ripen around mid-June.
At Fulton Farm in Troy, Jim Fulton and his father grow just under 40 acres of strawberries. "Part of the problem with strawberries is that they are really perishable," says Fulton. "Because we pick them at optimal sugar levels, there isn't much of a shelf life. It's a trade-off if you want taste." Fulton says that a bright red berry is a good indicator that it is ready to be picked, although some varieties are paler than others. "The calyx should look fresh, not brown." Still, taste is the best indicator, and Fulton invites folks to come out and taste for themselves.
Farm Markets and Pick-Your-Own Farms
Head to a farm in your area for the freshest strawberries. For a more comprehensive list, visit the web sites for Ohio Proud, www.ohioproud.org, or the Ohio Fruit Growers Society, www.ohiofruit.org.
Barb & Dick's Berry Farm & Greenhouse, 1823 W. Twp. Rd. 120, Tiffin, 419/447-7616
Bergefurd's Farm Market & Greenhouse, 234 St. Rte. 350 W, Wilmington, 937/383-2133
Branstrator Farm, 885 N. George Rd., Clarksville, 937/725-5607, www.branstratorfarm.com
Circle S Farms, 9015 London-Groveport Rd., Grove City, 614/878-7980, www.circlesfarm.com
Crum Strawberry Farm, 3314 Marion Edison Rd., Marion, 740/389-2161
Fulton Farms Market, 2393 St. Rte. 202, Troy, 937/335-6983, www.fultonfarms.com
Maurer Farms, 2901 Batdorf Rd., Wooster, 330/264-2285
Polter's Berry Farm, 2275 Co. Rd. 239, Fremont, 419/332-5890, www.poltersberryfarm.com
Stacy Family Farm, 135 BF Goodrich Rd., Marietta, 740/374-2371, www.stacyfarm.com
White House Fruit Farm, 9249 Youngstown Salem Rd., Canfield, 330/533-4161, www.whitehousefruitfarm.com
1 pint of berries = 2 1/2 cups whole berries
1 pint of berries = 2 1/2 cups sliced berries
1 pint of berries = 1 3/4 cups pureed berries
1 1/2â€“2 quarts are needed for a 9-inch pie
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries = one 10-ounce package of frozen strawberries
1 cup of strawberries contains approximately 50 calories
Courtesy of Stacy Family Farm
Makes 3 cups
2 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup Catalina salad dressing
A dash of hot pepper sauce
Pepper to taste
In a bowl, combine strawberries, green peppers, green onions and parsley. Stir in Catalina salad dressing, hot pepper sauce and peppers. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Serve with tortilla chips.
STRAWBERRY PRETZEL DESSERT
Courtesy of Branstrator Farm
2 cups broken pretzels (pieces not crumbs)
3/4 cup melted margarine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (softened)
1 cup sugar
1 8-ounce container Cool Whip
1 6-ounce package strawberry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 quart fresh, sliced strawberries
Spread pretzel pieces on bottom of 9-by-13-inch glass pan. Mix margarine and 1 tablespoon sugar and pour over pretzels. Bake eight minutes at 400 degrees. Cool and refrigerate. Mix cream cheese with 1 cup sugar. Add Cool Whip and blend. Spread on pretzel crust. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add strawberries. Pour on top of cheese mixture. Refrigerate until firm.
Bringing Home the Berries
Sort and remove any bruised, damaged berries as soon as possible. Use these in sauces, purees or jams. Place the berries in a cool, well-ventilated container. The moisture content of strawberries is high, so store uncovered or loosely covered. Hull strawberries and rinse gently just before serving.
To freeze, place strawberries on flat trays in a single layer and place in the coldest part of the freezer. Once frozen, place in freezer bags, seal, label and date. These berries can be used individually for special desserts or on cereals. To freeze without sugar, fill freezer containers with washed and dried berries to within Â½ inch of top. Combine 4 cups water with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and pour over berries before freezing. To freeze in a dry pack, sweetened, toss together 1 cup sugar with 4 cups prepared berries and let stand until sugar is almost dissolved. Pack in freezer containers leaving Â½ inch space at the top. Seal, label and date the container.
Courtesy of North American Strawberry Growers Association