More and more commercial growers are experimenting with gourmet strawberries. I get frequent inquiries from growers who ask for recommendations on what varieties to buy. It is impossible to make such recommendations without knowing the local market or the grower’s goals. I wrote a response today to a grower and am going to post it here. Hopefully, other growers or potential growers will be helped by this response. So, here goes:
……… I consult to growers who plan to grow gourmet strawberries for the high end market. I will provide a few thoughts without a consulting agreement.
First, alpine/woodland types are so soft that high tunnel type protection is essential for optimum production. They can be grown in the open field. I grew them this way more than 20 years ago and supplied a five star French restaurant with the fruit. I did not have protection and lost a fairly large portion of the crop after each rain or wind storm. These storms increased disease problems for the fruit that was not damaged directly by the storms. Gourmet types of hybrid strawberries such as ‘Mara des Bois’ can be grown without protection.
It is essential that you either talk to or conduct a survey of potential customers including chefs. Finding out ahead of time about their needs will save a lot of time and money in the long run. Also keep in mind that there are markets for gourmet strawberries outside of restaurants. High end bakeries, caterers, and others are also potential customers and should be contacted to determine their needs.
My first “rule” is START SMALL. Growers frequently contact me saying that they have set aside several acres and ask for a quote on thousands of plants or zillions of seeds. Growing for this market is more like micro farming. Managing small areas intensively to produce high quality high value fruit. A grower in NJ started a gourmet strawberry biz in NJ this spring. He wanted to grow thousands of plants. I convinced him to start with 300. I think he’s glad he started small. Growing the plants is the easy part. Harvesting is very labor intensive. Doing all of this while trying to develop the market and fine tuning various aspects of the business can be a daunting task.
I offer a resource to growers who are considering gourmet strawberries as a crop. It is a publication that is on both my sites. The nearly $80 price tag discourages some. I will say that I wish I had that information available to me when I was starting out. I can assure you that the price tag of this publication doesn’t even scratch the surface of the costs of research that I have conducted to get to the point where I am today.
Once you get a relatively clear idea of what local customers are looking for we can talk about timing and specific selections/varieties. I am not growing plants for large scale retail sales any longer. This past spring was my last season of that. Instead, I am concentrating on seeds sales as well as consulting. I will grow custom orders of plants but it’s getting late to start a fall crop. Because I don’t have greenhouse facilities any longer it would be nearly impossible for me to start a spring crop here. I’m sure there are local growers who could grow the plants for you if you can’t do this yourself …….