Strawberries, Louisiana’s state fruit is planted in early fall. Strawberry farmers anticipate harvesting in the spring.
William Fletcher is one of three strawberry farmers left in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
“It is a difficult industry to be in. There are more stable paychecks to be had outside of farming,” Fletcher said. “And, to be quite honest with you, land is worth a whole lot in certain areas of the state.”
Farms in Louisiana have dropped 9% according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service census. Expensive land sold to developers turns into subdivisions and shopping malls.
“Progress is progress, you know. What was once profitable as a strawberry farm is now not,” Fletcher said.
While small scale farming may fade out, large scale industrial farming in other states thrive.
“We have farmers in particular in California and Florida that grow a lot of strawberries in larger farms than what we would have here,” LSU horticulture professor Dr. Carl Motsenbocker said. “And, they kind of dominate the market. So, all of our farmers are more for local sales.”
Large plots of land are not necessary to plant strawberries. Anyone can buy berry plants from the store to plant in home gardens.
The next generation of farmers are getting their hands dirty at LSU’s Hill Farm Teaching Facility.
Strawberry farmers have been aging out, so the interest of the youth is now more important than ever.
Despite the challenges of farming, Fletcher enjoys the freedom to create his own schedule and wear his own clothes.
“After 20 something odd years, I’m still a 53-year-old little kid out there running around at the farm – doing what I wanna be doing.”
LSU’s Farm-to-School program encourages schools to source strawberries from small scale farmers. The program intends to spark and maintain interest in the farming industry for future generations. One of the program’s initiatives is “Harvest of the Month” in which strawberries are featured in the spring.
Be on the lookout for tasty strawberries at the Red Stick Farmer’s Market next spring. In the meantime, check out the farmer’s market 25th anniversary celebration on Nov. 6.