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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Strawberry season given cold shoulder by weather conditions

<p>Abby Kirksy, 2, picks strawberries for the first time with her mother, Melissa Kirksy, on Brown’s Farm in Hawthorne on Wednesday. Kirsky, from Starke, said it was their first time on the farm.</p>

Abby Kirksy, 2, picks strawberries for the first time with her mother, Melissa Kirksy, on Brown’s Farm in Hawthorne on Wednesday. Kirsky, from Starke, said it was their first time on the farm.

For one Florida farmer, this year’s strawberry season will come a little later than expected.

At Brown’s Farm in Orange Heights, strawberry season usually begins around October or November and peaks around late March to early April, said owner Roy Brown. After a colder-than-usual start to the year, the peak season has been slightly delayed.

Now, Brown said he expects most of his crop to be ripe around mid-April. Last year, he said the berries peaked in March.

“We had a very good crop last year,” he said.

However, since not every berry ripens at the same time, it’s difficult to measure a specific amount, he said.

But that doesn’t mean the berries aren’t ready to be picked.

Brown’s Farm, located at 18120 State Road 26, opened up its roughly 500-acre strawberry field for picking March 14, where anyone can pick the berries for $1.50 per pound.

Brown said when he was growing up, Bradford and Alachua County were the main strawberry-growing counties in Florida. But a few hard freezes over the years have resulted in most of the industry moving south to Plant City.

This makes selling to local grocery stores more difficult, he said, as there is more competition from Plant City and California, where the strawberries peak much sooner due to the consistently warmer weather.

Ward’s Supermarket buys its strawberries from farmers in Gainesville and Plant City, said  Produce Manager Brooke Ward. Ward’s typically buys from Brown’s farm, but the delay in the season has Ward’s buying strawberries from other farmers.

Brown said he grows two varieties of California-bred strawberries: Camarosa and Benicia, but next season he plans to grow a new kind of strawberry called the “Florida Sensation,” which was developed by UF and introduced to Florida growers last year.

Overall, Brown said he finds the newest developments in strawberry varieties to be less flavorful than they used to be, though he said they are certainly sweeter.

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“The redder the better,” he said, smiling.

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 4/7/2015 under the headline “Strawberry season delayed by cold”]

Abby Kirksy, 2, picks strawberries for the first time with her mother, Melissa Kirksy, on Brown’s Farm in Hawthorne on Wednesday. Kirsky, from Starke, said it was their first time on the farm.

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