Spring is here, March is almost over, and that means one thing (OK, it means a lot of things; but for purposes of this article, it’s just one): Strawberry season will soon be here.
This is good news for the economy of the State of California, which supplies a whopping 80 percent of America’s strawberries — and it’s not just because California has more land area than most states. It’s actually due to their astoundingly productive fields. Per acre, California yields 10 times more strawberries than Michigan (ranked seventh in the nation for production) and 20 times more than New York (eighth on the list).
Of course, it’s not just the quantity that makes California strawberries the best, but also the quality, which is achieved through a painstaking growing process. Each delicious red morsel once came from a microscopic particle of plant tissue that was cut off the tip of a growing strawberry stem about five years prior, put in a petri dish, and grown into a new plant that sent out dozens of offspring plants (called “runners”), which are planted, and, in turn, grow into new runners, which are clipped, and so on.
And it’s not just time that the plants see a lot of. They also get quite the scenic tour of the west coast. After being multiplied in greenhouses, the plants are later put into the Southern California fields, and then moved once again to the mountains along the California-Oregon border. The lower temperature there primes them for maximum production, and when the runners the ready, they are planted once again for the eventual fruit harvest that starts in April and May every year.
Of course, it’s still not as simple as that. (That was simple?!) The soil also needs to be treated with chemicals in order to kill any threats to the plants — insects, weeds, fungi — and the ground is then sealed up with plastic. Or, in the case of organics, the strawberries are moved from field to field every season, with each one only getting used three to five years. If you ever wondered the real reason organic strawberries cost more, this is it.
Even with these processes that we assume have been perfected (because we as consumers have strawberries available for purchase that aren’t rotting and filled with bugs), there’s still a lot of research and testing that’s constantly at work around the state, country, and world to deal with a whole host of problems. Pesticides new and old are being approved and banned in various places, the weather and climate are constantly changing, and scientists and farmers are designing and experimenting with innovative techniques to grow better strawberries in greater quantities.
Still, the growing and harvesting process has come a long way, and even though it’s not nearly finished, California has created a near-perfect method for raising strawberries, which is a good reason why the state controls 80 percent of the national market. It’s also a good reason why California’s scrumptious strawberries are worth waiting for every spring.