Strawberry group offers chance at $500 if you pick some for others

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 11, 2014

One of the most bountiful strawberry seasons in recent memory is in full swing across much of North Carolina, but the bumper crop could mean sweet berries left rotting in the fields.

The state’s strawberry association is encouraging people to donate berries to those less fortunate.

High strawberry yields in a shortened time-frame are posing significant challenges to growers, according to the N.C. Strawberry Association.

Due to a major shift in climatic conditions this year, the season has started later than usual, said Dr. Barclay Poling, executive director of the N.C. Strawberry Association.

“It’s anyone’s guess on how long the season will last. We’re seeing unprecedented volume during the first week,” Poling said in a news release. “It is a phenomenon we haven’t seen before.”

The situation is posing major challenges for the state’s farmers. The plants are loaded with fruit, and farmers in eastern North Carolina where the season starts are beginning to see berries ripening all at once, rather than gradually.

“What is happening in the eastern part of the state is expected to play out statewide,” Poling said. “A typical weekly 2,000 pounds per acre yield will escalate to 5,000 to 6,000 pounds by mid-May, if not higher.”

Farmers need people to get out to you-pick farms and pick berries, he said. Any time is great to pick during May, but Mondays through Wednesdays are optimal times and less busy than weekends, he said.

Consumers who have had some of the first berries of the season say they are especially good this year, sweeter and tastier, which Poling said can be attributed to the cooler temperatures.

The N.C. Strawberry Association, which represents about 400 growers in the state and a nearly $21 million industry, hopes people will get out to local you-pick operations to stock up.

The association also is encouraging church and work groups, families and friends to make strawberry picking a fun outing and to give some berries to a local food pantry, soup kitchen, day care center, nursing home or other place or person of need.

“We have a bumper crop coming on,” said Mitchell Wrenn, a farmer in Zebulon, who serves as president of the N.C. Strawberry Association. “Consider giving some berries to someone in need, someone who is handicapped or in a nursing home so they can enjoy these delicious berries. They just don’t compare to the ones you find in the grocery store. They have so much more flavor.”

Wrenn frequently provides produce from his farm to a local nursing home and knows the appreciation people have for good food. He is hoping consumers will get in on this opportunity to help a local farmer and give back to someone in need by picking an extra bucket for them.

It would be a shame, he says, for much of this crop to remain in the field when so many people could benefit from these delicious berries.

“Most strawberry farms in the state are family operations. They are trying to make a living for their families while providing good, fresh local food,” Poling said. “They’ve produced an excellent crop but Mother Nature has dealt them a difficult situation.

“We’re hoping consumers will realize that the taste and flavor of local berries just can’t be beat and will get out on the farm and pick berries with family and friends.”

For those who share berries with someone in need, they have a chance to win $500. Like the N.C. Strawberry Facebook page at and post a photo of your experience.

Include a caption with your name, farm where you are picking, the charity you donated the berries to along with their phone number. The winning post will receive a $500 cash prize and an invitation to the Southeast Strawberry Expo at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst Nov. 17-19.