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Mississippians prefer flavor of local strawberries
By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The strawberry business in Mississippi may be small, but growers are finding big business with consumers who prefer to buy locally.
“The Mississippi strawberry is as red on the inside as it is on the outside,” said Brooks Brownlee, who owns Brownlee Farms in Marshall County and grows five acres of strawberries. “Commercial strawberries have a whitish color and air pockets on the inside, but our berries are fresh-tasting throughout.”
Brownlee sells his strawberries at his farm and at a roadside stand in Shelby County in Tennessee. He said he believes his business succeeds because consumers prefer to buy their produce from local growers.
“There is a big ‘buy local’ movement going on, and consumers are looking in their areas for places they can purchase produce,” he said. “Being able to offer customers a fresh product that tastes better than what they can get in grocery stores is what keeps strawberry growers successful.”
Strawberries grown in California and Florida are available in grocery stores before Mississippi growers even begin their harvest. Those berries have a long shelf life, but local berries are meant to be consumed shortly after harvest.
“Our berries are supposed to be eaten fresh from the farm or made into preserves or baked goods that can be kept,” Brownlee said. “The taste quality is excellent, and they are really hard to beat.” Wayne Porter, Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Lauderdale County, said consumers will be pleased with this year’s crop. “Harvest started in central and northern Mississippi about two to three weeks ago, and areas farther south began even earlier than that,” Porter said. “The crop is looking really good due to optimal growing conditions. There was enough rain, and this winter was not as cold as last winter.”
Porter said mild weather has gotten harvest off to a good start, and as long as temperatures remain under 85 degrees, growers can continue to harvest successfully.
“Once temperatures creep above 85 degrees, the plants stop blooming,” Porter said. “So far, the temperatures have been good, and we’ve had minimal frost. These conditions have resulted in high yields.”
Porter said new growing techniques such as high tunnels which are unheated greenhouse structures that help regulate temperature, can help get strawberries ready for harvest even earlier.
“We’ve been testing strawberries in high tunnels, and this year, we got some ready for harvest in early February,” he said. “They may be a good option for growers needing to get their product out there sooner.”
The number of strawberry growers is increasing slightly as farmers take advantage of the popularity of local produce.
“A half acre of strawberries can bring a grower decent business. The berries sell quickly without a problem,” Porter said. “Growers can get a premium price selling them straight from the farm or from a roadside stand to local clientele. Right now, strawberries are selling for about $2 a pound.”
According to Brownlee, the Mississippi strawberry’s fresh taste speaks for itself.
“It has a flavor and quality you can’t get in a store,” Brownlee said. “Customers say it is the best berry they have ever eaten.”