Blueberry Wisdom and Other Thoughts From the South

News

May 19, 2018

By Vivian Howard

I grew up in rural eastern North Carolina, where farmers and their families were my neighbors, my friends, and my family. In this place, Deep Run, where I now live with my husband and two children at the end of long gravel driveway that flanks a wheat field, there’s not a whole lot going on. There aren’t any stop lights or fancy grocery stores, but there are at least a half-dozen produce stands and four times as many fields full of turnip greens and corn. Farming is the backbone of our community, economically and culturally, and has left an indelible mark on me as a person and a chef.

Over a decade ago when we opened Chef & the Farmer, after cooking in the bustling kitchens of Manhattan, I was worried it would be difficult for people to understand what I wanted to do and the food I wanted to cook. I thought I wanted farmers to grow the ingredients I was used to cooking in New York — haricot verts, purple potatoes, apricots or watercress —not just the sweet potatoes or collards I remembered from my youth. I look back at this now and laugh. Instead of cooking food that had anything to do with me or eastern North Carolina, I guess I thought I could uproot generations of tradition to fit a specific mold I had envisioned in New York. Eventually, I came to lean into this place I call home and the folks who grew the ingredients we were using.

 

 

When faced with 500 pounds of blueberries about to spoil, I made blueberry vinegar that evolved into one of our restaurant’s signature dishes, blueberry bbq chicken. When my neighbors dropped off a ziploc bag of collard kraut and I realized old folks down the road from me were masters of fermentation, a technique I was just beginning to understand, I saw that I could apply “cheffy” techniques to humble ingredients. When Curtis Smith, a farmer I work with, tells me he’s about to have strawberries, I now know that the first ones of the season aren’t the sweetest. They’re better baked into cobblers or helped along with a little sugar. As it gets warmer, our strawberry preparations change. End of season berries stand on their own. In short, I learned that ingredients grown here are as versatile and as nuanced as ingredients grown in New York. They’re as complex and competent as the people and the soil that grows them. Although my career and my role at Chef & the Farmer has evolved over the last decade, one thing that has never wavered is my commitment to sourcing local ingredients directly from the folks who grow it. It’s because of these ingredients that I am who I am as a chef. These growers and their product have helped me find my voice.

 

As a society over the last generation, we’ve become disconnected with our food source in many ways. So often our foods are processed and cleaned to remove any trace of the farm where they came from. This makes it easy to forget about the folks behind our food, the ones who work hard to deliver environmentally friendly produce, the ones who have stories that could fill a book twice the size of Deep Run Roots, the ones whose families work alongside them, day in and day out, missing out on summer vacation.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been thrilled to partner with IMPAC, International Member of the Precision Ag Community over the last year. It’s one of my missions to reconnect consumers with their food growers who are committed to sustainable practices, food safety and social responsibility. At the end of the day, these farmers are real people, just like you and me. They have a story worth hearing and IMPAC provides a platform for these rich narratives to flourish. It’s been an honor to help bring these stories to the surface over the last year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the recipes along the way.

What You Need to Know About Water Conservation

News

May 17, 2018

By IMPAC

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture:

  • Total number of U.S. farm acres: 914,527,657 (Down 8% from 2007)
  • Total number of irrigated acres 560,599,000
  • Total irrigation withdrawal was 115 billion gallons

In 2010, the national average application rate was 2.07 acre-feet per acre, or 11 percent less than the 2005 average of 2.32 acre-feet per acre. Total irrigation withdrawals were 9 percent less than in 2005.

Peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until leveling off in the early 1970s. About 2.06 million farms are currently in operation. Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector.

Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs. As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output more than doubled between 1948 and 2015.

How important is agriculture in America?

In 2016, the U.S. Farming industry employed more than 2.3 million people on about 2.1 million farms. Many of these farms and employees are in your neighborhood, shopping in your stores and giving back to the community.

While agriculture in America accounts for the majority of water use, efficiency has increased dramatically. You may think after drilling the well, the farmer doesn’t pay anything for water, you would be wrong. On top of spending tens of thousands of dollars to drill a well, only after spending thousands on permitting, the average farmer can expect to pay about .35 cents per 1,000 gallons of water pumped from a well. This is the cost of electricity or fuel. Gaining efficiency is not only good for the environment, it is good for the bottom line.

Today’s farmers and ranchers use weather stations and soil moisture sensors to help determine when and how much to water. This technology has given farmers and ranchers the data needed to make better and more informed decisions when it comes to turning on the pumps.

Other technologies including variable rate irrigation (VRI) has allowed the farmer to maximize the data provided by weather stations and soil moisture sensors and automatically feed this data in center pivot irrigation systems, automatic shut-off valves on pumps, and GPS enabled sprayers on tractors. This technology has easily reduced water use by as much as 15%.

Efficiency does come at a cost, weather stations and soil moisture sensors can cost upward of $3,500 each, automatic shut-off systems in the thousands, and large-scale VRI’s can reach $30,000 per field. But, today’s farmers and ranchers incorporate this technology so the next generation (their children) can continue to feed America.

What can you do to help?

Here are 17 water conservation tips and tricks that are either free or very inexpensive to implement. In fact, many communities around America offer cost-share programs to install water-efficient plumbing.

  1. Always turn taps off tightly so they do not drip.
  2. Promptly repair any leaks in and around your taps. (One leak can waste several thousand gallons of water per year.)
  3. Use an aerator and/or a water flow-reducer attachment on your tap to reduce your water usage.
  4. When hand-washing dishes, never run water continuously. Wash dishes in a partially filled sink and then rinse them using the spray attachment on your tap.
  5. If you have an electric dishwasher, use it only to wash full loads, and use the shortest cycle possible. Many dishwashers have a conserver/water-miser cycle.
  6. When brushing your teeth, turn the water off while you are actually brushing. Use short bursts of water for cleaning your brush. (This saves about 80% of the water normally used.)
  7. When washing or shaving, partially fill the sink and use that water rather than running the tap continuously. (This saves about 60% of the water normally used.) Use short bursts of water to clean razors.
  8. Use either low-flow shower heads or adjustable flow-reducer devices on your shower heads. (They reduce flow by at least 25%.)
  9. You can reduce water usage by 40% to 50% by installing low-flush toilets.
  10. Wash only full loads in your washing machine.
  11. Use the shortest cycle possible for washing clothes, and use the “suds-saver” feature if your machine has one.
  12. Use only cleaning products that will not harm the environment when washed away after use. Look for “environmentally friendly” products when shopping.
  13. Lawns and gardens require less than ½” of water per day during warm weather. Less is needed during spring, fall, or cool weather.
  14. Water lawns every three to five days, rather than for a short period every day. In warm weather, apply less than ½” of water for each day since the last watering.
  15. Water during the cool part of the day, in the morning or evening. Do not water on windy days.
  16. Do not over-water in anticipation of a shortage. Soil cannot store extra water.
  17. Use shut-off timers or on-off timers, if possible. Do not turn on sprinklers and leave for the day.

Do you own a business?

Water Conservation at work is not only environmentally friendly, it will save you money. Here are some great resources to help reduce water use at work. https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/waterwork/checklist-restaurant.html

Resources:

https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Farms_and_Farmland/Highlights_Farms_and_Farmland.pdf

https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_201.htm

https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/irrigated-agriculture-in-the-united-states/

https://www.oecd.org/unitedstates/45016437.pdf

https://water.usgs.gov/edu/wateruse-total.html

About Danny Kushmer

For Danny, water is a passion. As a third-generation Floridian from South Hillsborough County, Danny grew up farming tropical fish. In 1996 Danny started a farm-raised catfish operation in the Florida panhandle, producing over 50,000 pounds of processed catfish each week. In the late 90’s, he served as the Executive Director for the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce and graduated from the University of Florida’s Wedgworth Leadership Program for Agriculture and Natural Resources. He also wokred for the Southwest Florida Water Management District as [position] for [amount] years.

Danny currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame as Building Committee Chair. He has also previously served on the board of directors for the Bartow Chamber of Commerce, the George Harris Runaway and Crisis Shelter, Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, and the Lakes Education Action Drive which supports improved water quality in Central Florida.

 

 

Fresh Produce Branding Secrets Revealed

News

April 6, 2018

By IMPAC

by Lisa Cork
CEO, Fresh Produce Marketing Ltd.

People often ask me, “What’s the secret to creating a great brand?” Having created a few great brands over my career (Eat Smart®, Wild About Fruit®, Love! Kumara®, Avovita™, Born Pure™ and Winter Sweetz™ Texas grapefruit to name a few), I put it down to three things. You have to:

  1. Find your unique ‘story’.
  2. Find your consumer-centric proposition.
  3. Use and apply ‘trend’ thinking to give you a competitive edge.

You see, creating a great brand involves more than getting your nephew, who is studying graphic design, to make up a name and logo. Creating a great brand is a strategic AND creative process. It takes you and your business on a journey of discovery, revealing not only brand name options, but new strategic opportunities for your business as well.

While I have always been a strategic brand developer (I created Apio Produce Sales’ innovative ‘Eat Smart’ brand back in 1992), my original business focus was fresh produce marketing. But like many of your businesses, my business has evolved over the past decade and today, 99% of my work involves helping farmers, growers and healthy food companies develop high impact, consumer focussed brands and packaging.

So how does one go about creating a great brand?

I’ll share with you the process we use in the hopes of demystifying how brand development works.

A good analogy and one I use when I tell people what I do, is creating a great brand is like building WASGIJ puzzle. A WASGIJ, which is “jigsaw” spelled backwards, is an innovative puzzle concept in which the picture on the box is merely a clue for the puzzle you will be putting together. So unlike a traditional jigsaw puzzle, where the picture on the box gives you the answer, with a WASGIJ, you have to build the puzzle using only the clues. This perfectly describes how I create great brands.

In my business, I am the strategist. My role is to work closely with clients, ask hundreds of questions, do extensive background and trend research and probe for any and every untapped opportunity I can find. This process gives me the pieces of the puzzle I have to work with.

For clients, this questioning process, even before the brand development has started, has huge value. They find the process of answering my hundreds of questions gives them ‘a-ha’ moments as they see their business through fresh eyes.

Once I’ve done the deep-dive background research and asked the questions, I then process all of the information through what I call a ‘consumer-centric’ filter. Using this filter as my guide, I analyze the data, looking to see what fits together and creating a picture of the new opportunities available. Simply by seeing the information and insights in new ways, new thinking emerges. And in this new thinking, the client’s new brand and positioning strategy are revealed.

Once the strategic work is done, I bring in my team of experts. A copywriter helps with brand ideas and creating the brand story. A creative strategist helps bring the brand and story to life visually. A specialist packaging designer helps design high impact packaging that stands out on a crowded shelf, connects with consumers in a meaningful way and drives new sales or value growth opportunities.

The whole process is a bit like alchemy, a seemingly magical process of transformation or creation. But in truth, doing this work is my absolute passion and I love every minute of the challenge until the WASGIJ is solved and the client is happy.

Right now, there is a huge interest in food and the story of food.

Millennial consumers want to know, ‘whose hands are in the dirt.’ Given this increased interest, it is more important than ever to have a brand that talks to consumers and tells your story.

So consider the following in regards to your brand. Are you still using a grower or farm name? Do you have competitors who have innovated and are you feeling left behind? Want to do something innovative, but not sure where to start? If yes, then it could be time to determine whether a rebrand will deliver increased value to your business.

Finally, remember that great brands are more than just clever names and pretty pictures. Creating a great brand is a strategic process that balances a company’s vision, mission, goals, and products with consumer needs and wants, creating an opportunity sweet spot. And in this sweet spot, more sales, faster sell-through, new accounts and more revenue is generated.

About Lisa Cork…

Helping fresh produce companies create amazing brands and brand experiences in local and global markets

Lisa has been a passionate produce marketer her entire career. Fresh out of college, she made her mark on the industry sending ten tonnes of broccoli to a President and creating ‘Eat Smart’, the produce industry’s first consumer focused brand. A California girl by birth, a trip around the world saw Lisa move to New Zealand, where she now runs her bespoke brand strategy consultancy.

Today, Lisa combines her passion for produce with her passion for travel – giving her a truly international perspective on the industry. In her work with companies around the world, recent projects included managing a large New Zealand grower’s digital strategy roll-out in China, creating fresh juice branding and packaging for Asia and writing the brand strategy and developing the brand for an innovative Australian baby food range exported to Hong Kong.

Lisa is recognized in the industry as a thought leader on produce brand strategy. She holds both Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Marketing, writes for multiple industry publications, and speaks regularly at global conferences. Lisa also serves on the PMA Board of Directors.

 For more information, visit: www.freshproducemarketing.com

Vivian Howard: Strawberry Wisdom

News

March 2, 2018

By Vivian Howard

I live out in the country in Deep Run. Not like a country house on Long Island where you can zip out your door and be in a gourmet market shopping for artisan bread in a matter of minutes, but a country house like when I was growing up, our water came from a well. Our well was serviced by a pump and we had what we called a pump house, a little structure that mimicked the design of our home surrounding the pump. My mom planted a strawberry patch around the pump house sometime shortly after I was born because I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. She will probably argue with me when I say this, but I watered, weeded and picked that little strawberry patch for several springs growing up. I knew the petite white blooms would eventually mean sweet floral berries and I checked patiently for them to turn red. When the berries were just right, I picked them carefully, took them straight inside, topped and washed them over the sink and went to crushing with my mom’s collard chopper.

My mom is a tough and resourceful lady. She has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life, has had two shoulder replacements, numerous other surgeries on her hands and feet and has never taken anything other than ibuprofen for pain. Using a knife to do work like slicing strawberries was very hard for her, so the collard chopper was a tool we used in excess in the Howard kitchen. Those strawberries may not have been pretty, but after I tore them apart with the collard chopper, gave them a good dousing in sugar and let them sit for the minimum amount of time it took the juice to leach out, they were wonderful!

I’m sorry to disappoint and tell you that we did not spoon my sugared strawberries over freshly baked biscuits and top them with hand-whipped, vanilla sweetened cream. No, we scooped the muddled delicious mess onto a tasty cake, with a hole in the center, from the IGA and crowned the whole thing with Cool Whip. I knew no different at the time and could not have imagined anything better. I’m having a hard time imagining an experience to top it now.

Despite what the produce section at the grocery store tells up, strawberries have a season, and within that season the qualities of the fruit change. The first flush of strawberries are not my favorite and are rarely very sweet. As the season progresses and the weather warms, the berries grow sweeter and more tender.

  • Do what you can to avoid refrigerating strawberries. If you buy them in a store, chances are they at least traveled there in a refrigerated truck. If you buy them at the market, inquire as to whether the berries were just picked. Refrigeration takes away much of the fragrance and sheen from a strawberry.
  • If you are lucky enough to find berries that haven’t been chilled down, use them within 3 days for best results.
  • Look for heirloom varieties. These tend to be smaller and sweeter, and are great eaten out of hand. I love to eat varieties like Sweet Charlie when the stem end is still a little green. At this stage, they offer a cool balance between super sugary and tart.
  • Less sweet, firmer varieties are best for making preserves. They hold their shape well when cooked and are capable of taking on more sugar.

Strawberries have an elegant, nuanced persona that for me doesn’t always stand up to strong flavors like mint and chocolate. I think they generally deserve to be the star, but when used in the right fashion, strawberries can complement things like beets and tomatoes.

Strawberries are in season now in Florida until the end of March. In North Carolina, (we’re the fourth largest producer of strawberries in the United States) our season will start in April and last through mid-June.

Farmer’s Voices: Connecting through Conversation

News

February 13, 2018

By Vivian Howard

I’ve had the chance to spend time with and interview a handful of farmers in Florida this year while working with IMPAC. Each of of these five farmers grow fruit — strawberries, watermelon, and one of them was trying their hand at blueberries for the first time. In most of my visits, I’ve spent time with their whole family, too, and I’ve learned the act and experience of farming seems to be the same everywhere and across crops.

Having grown up on a farm and in a farming community, it’s striking to meet other farmers across the southeast and learn that their story very much parallels my family’s experience. Regardless of whether everybody in your family works on the farm, farming is very much a family business — it’s a 365 day a year job that ultimately requires the understanding and cooperation of everyone. Though my dad grew tobacco and raised commodity hogs, our family’s challenges on the farm seem to mirror those of the farmers I’ve met this year — from the levels of red tape and regulation, to issues with labor, to the always-on-call nature of running the farm.

It has also been interesting to see how many of these farmers share what they do with their children and hope that they will carry on the same work. That, too, is a common experience at home in Eastern North Carolina. This sense of responsibility and desire to pass on a farming heritage is something you don’t see in a lot of professions. Doctors don’t necessarily want their kids to become doctors, but there’s something tangible about farming, a level of ownership and stewardship that is prevalent.

Perhaps more than anything, these interviews have illustrated the profound need for farmers to tell their story.

IMPAC Farmers' Voices

As consumers it is easy to become detached from our food source. All too often, we don’t realize everything that goes into producing a strawberry and getting that strawberry to the grocery store. IMPAC farmer’s, in particular, are committed to sustainable and transparent farming methods and use sophisticated processes — from weather stations that can turn on and off water supply and computer programs that can manage crop fertilizer — in an effort to maximize efficiency, reduce water use, and contribute to improving water quality in surrounding areas. If we better understood that process, I think consumers would value that strawberry more and certainly value the person who grew it more.

Unfortunately, in my experience farmers tend to be among some of worst advocates for themselves and their industry. They don’t get into farming to become a public speaker — it is by nature a very a solitary profession. So being an advocate for themselves and the industry, in many ways, goes against the very nature of what it takes to be a farmer. The idea of having a united voice in media or government can be a foreign concept. That tends to be a big problem for farmers because if you don’t speak for yourself, someone else is going to speak for you.

I’m proud to be a part of these conversations for this reason — IMPAC is helping tell the stories of farmers who might not otherwise do that on their own. There’s work to be done and it’s no easy task, for sure, but I truly believe that sharing a farmer’s experience with others will better connect us to our food, and to each other.

Why Strawberries Are About To Taste Way Better

News

January 16, 2018

By IMPAC

By Chris Barbey
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Florida

 

Flavor Sells Strawberries
Consumers want sweet, fruity-tasting strawberries, yet little improvement has been made in this area. This is partly because of the immense genetic and chemical complexity of flavor. Strawberry flavor actually consists of hundreds of unique chemicals, each contributing an important musical note in the orchestra of flavor and aroma. These individual compounds typically have a distinct genetic origin, determining if that flavor is (or isn’t) produced in the ripe fruit. Adding to this complexity each person’s ability to sense various flavor compounds is different, explaining why a universal success is impossible to pin down. Because of these challenges, variety improvement has historically prioritized yield and shipping qualities, often at the expense of flavor.

If we know which genes control flavor and aroma, we can develop new strawberry varieties that are tastier and healthier. However, connecting strawberry flavors to their underlying genetics has been slow and difficult.

 

Gene Discovery for Strawberry Flavor
Our work at the University of Florida has recently led to a number of discoveries in this area. We use a combination of genetic and chemistry techniques to identify the strawberry genes responsible for important flavors.

Linanool – Strawberry CompoundThe gene discovery process starts in the field. Thousands of fruits from different plants are analyzed at the chemical level. We use a technique called mass spectrometry, which gives us a chemical parts-list of the strawberry fruit. We then group strawberry plants by their ability to produce a given aroma compound, and ask a simple question: What unique genes do they have in common? These common genes are likely related to the aroma compound.

The scientific method is a simple process of deduction—anyone can do it. If certain plants make a unique flavor, we simply look for their unique genetics. But how do we study plants at the genetic level?

 

Forget Microscopes, We Need to Go Smaller
In an ideal world, we might use a DNA sequencer to read each strawberry’s genome. However this is impractical and expensive. What we actually do is sequence a tiny bit, very frequently—35,000 times, actually. Sounds complicated, but it boils down rather simply. The graph above tells the story:

Each colored dot represents one of our 35,000 different genetic tests, performed along strawberry’s seven chromosomes. We are looking for a genetic test where all flavor-producers have the same test results. The more consistent the results, the higher-up the colored dot. In this case the data indicate that strawberry plants that make linalool (Froot Loops®-like aroma) all share a common genetic sequence near the start of chromosome three!

This is a special example. The linalool-producing gene is already known, and it is located exactly where our results indicate. In other words, we re-discovered the linalool-producing gene, so it says that we can trust the rest of the data. It is like a positive control for the whole approach.

We’ve now discovered the genetics controlling almost a dozen strawberry flavors, including pineapple and grape aromas! Some of these strawberry flavors haven’t seen grocery stores for decades. We’re bringing flavor back.

 

Tomorrow’s Strawberry
These discoveries are a big deal.

Using these genetic tests, we can know how a strawberry is going to taste even before a single fruit is made. We can test the genetics of ten-thousand seedlings in the lab, and choose only the best tasting ones for field trials. Instead of searching by hand for a needle in a haystack, we build an electromagnet. This doesn’t just speed up the process by years—it makes it feasible to breed for flavor at all.

There is no shortage of feelings about food and technology. However we all agree that we need to eat healthier. Developing tastier and healthier fruits and vegetables encourages consumers to eat better, and brings better profits to farmers.

How Buying IMPAC-Certified Produce Fits Into Your New Year’s Resolutions

News

January 12, 2018

By IMPAC

January is always a good time for reflection, planning and new beginnings. For many of us, a good portion of this time is spent imagining ways to achieve not only our ideal selves, but also our ideal world. Oftentimes, this includes eating healthier, being more environmentally conscious, giving back to our local community, etc.

If you’re in the Florida/Georgia area and your New Year’s resolutions include any of the above, opting for IMPAC-certified produce is a great place to start. Not only does purchasing produce from local farmers support the community, but it also encourages healthier eating and more sustainable farming practices.

And, with strawberry season in full bloom right now, there’s plenty of reasons why buying IMPAC-certified produce is beneficial for all parties involved.

Developing Healthier Habits

Many New Year’s resolutions are focused on eating better. Whether it’s to lose weight or have more energy, it’s important to incorporate fresh produce into any diet to encourage healthier habits. Strawberries are ideal for this. They have a variety of nutrients that each have some amazing health benefits, including antioxidants (which help prevent vision loss), Vitamin C (which help prevent certain cancers and heart disease), folate (which promotes prenatal health) and much more. Plus, they’re also the perfect fruit to use in a variety of hot and cold recipes, including this strawberry caprese salad, strawberry salsa, or indulge in some other variations here.

Contributing to More Sustainable Practices

Farming Drone

IMPAC-certified growers use precision agriculture in order to be sustainable. An example of this is the water sensors strawberry growers use in their fields, which allow them to reduce the amount of water they use on their plants, using only what’s needed. They also use drone, ground or satellite data to pinpoint exactly which areas need what treatment, which equates to less pesticides used overall and a much greener alternative for the environment.

Supporting Local Farmers

Purchasing IMPAC-certified produce means knowing your money is going directly back into the community. This allows them to grow and expand their businesses, while still keeping quality at the forefront. As an added eco-friendly benefit, supporting local also means not having to worry about the environmental impact of trucking produce across the country.

Enjoying Fresher, More Flavorful Foods

Fresh strawberries in mason jar

If you live in the Florida/Georgia area and see an IMPAC-certified label on your strawberries, you know that not only are those farmers local, but they’re growing their produce with the utmost care using precision agriculture best practices.

As many of Florida/Georgia’s leading strawberry farmers are now IMPAC certified, it makes it easy for consumers to incorporate this delicious produce into their lives. Strawberries may just be the perfect fruit to help get your body healthy and wake up from the winter doldrums. How are you incorporating fresh produce into your New Year’s resolutions?

 

Florida Strawberry Farmers Fight Freezing Temps

News

January 10, 2018

By IMPAC

Brrrr, it’s cold outside! We’ve been ringing in the New Year with record temperatures all over the U.S. and ironically, the Sunshine State. With recent snowfall reported in the Florida panhandle, Hard Freeze Warnings have prompted swift responses within the agricultural community. According to the National Weather Service, Hard Freeze Warnings state that temperatures 27 degrees or less are expected for at least a period of 2 hours. Considering the severity of these warnings, proactive caution by strawberry farmers is important as Plant City and surrounding farms are responsible for nearly 300 million pounds of strawberries each year.

As noted by John Sizemore, owner of Sizemore Farms and an IMPAC certified grower, “We haven’t seen freezes like this in years, and we have to do what we can to protect our crops during these freezing nights.” Sizemore Farms and many other growers are taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our crops.

Irrigation

A strawberry plant can become damaged easily, so growers have to implement creative solutions to ensure high-quality fruit. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s very common to see farmers run irrigation throughout the night to create a layer of ice over the entire surface area of the plant. A phenomenon called “latent heat”, the act of creating an ice made shell around the circumference of the fruit is an energy heavy process with a chemical by-product being heat. The act of freezing the fruit is actually an indirect form of insulation. The act of creating the ice actually raises the internal temperature to 32˚F, a “magic number” of sorts. The strawberry plants will avoid any internal damage, so the temperature does not drop below 28˚F for a long period. “Our lowest temperature was 28˚, before that 24,” says Andy McDonald, owner of Sweet Life Farms in Plant City. “It’s more about the duration. One night we ran the sprinklers from 2:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m., and then another night from 11:30 p.m. – 10 a.m. We are exhausted right now, but we have to do it.”

Row Covers

Although the standard practice is to apply sprinkler irrigation across the field, there are other methods that growers can use to protect their crop when overhead sprinkler irrigation is unavailable. Some growers choose lightweight row covers made from polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, and other materials (see photo). These row covers work by enclosing the mass of air around the plant canopies and trapping the heat already absorbed by the soil and plant during the day. A labor intensive process, these row covers are placed in the field only during freeze nights and must be removed the following day if the temperature does not threaten to remain low for subsequent freezes.

Foliar Products

A third option is the application of foliar polymer to the plants (i.e. Desikote) to reduce or prevent freezing damage. This product is an anti-transpirant that creates a physical barrier and reduces heat loss from plant tissues.

The good news is that our strawberries are still thriving here in Florida thanks to our farmers who determine the best methods for their crops. Look for your IMPAC-grown strawberries in your local stores during Florida strawberry season, Thanksgiving through Easter.

Vivian Howard: Christmas Memories on the Farm

News

December 19, 2017

If you farm animals, you farm all year long. It’s the type of job where you work every day and, at least for my dad, you expect everybody else to work every day. So the holidays were always interesting around the Howard house. Dad was incredibly grumpy at Christmas because he was basically forced to take two days off and that was not in his comfort zone. While he enjoyed spending time with his family, he would periodically pout and shut the door to his bedroom because he couldn’t go to work. Good, bad or ugly, that’s a big part of my Christmas memory growing up in farming family.

I think for a lot of farmers Christmas is kind of difficult, especially if you’re a farmer who falls into the category of work is all you know. When work is your life, you don’t necessarily have time for hobbies or time to watch TV, so when you have free time you don’t know what to do with yourself.

As a kid, it was always hard to understand why Dad had such a hard time enjoying the holidays. But as an adult, with a busy home and work life, I can better understand his frustration. I run a restaurant and can sympathize with the challenges of balancing holiday obligations and work obligations. This is one of our businesses most important times of the year—dinner service is really busy, we have a lot of private parties, and to add to it, this year, we’re in the middle of opening a third restaurant. With all that going on, it takes a bit of planning to carve out additional time to fulfill Christmas responsibilities.

For me, it’s about recognizing ahead of time when I’m going to have the free time and making the most of it. Ben and I knew this December would be abnormally busy. So, we made it a point to start the season early, and the day after Thanksgiving, we got our Christmas tree. We get a lot of joy out of decorating the tree with ornaments the kids have made through the years. They’re really into seeing what it is they made in years past and it so much fun to bring them out to talk about them. Our kids really love being part of the decorating process.

 

 

Dad’s case of the holiday blues has gotten better, too. Perhaps, that’s because in the last 15 years he’s channeled his idle time into forging a new tradition. A few days before Christmas, he goes to a special store in neighboring Beulaville and buys air-dried sausage—literally 30 pounds of it. He’s afraid we might run out.

On Christmas morning, he gets up early and grills sausage for everyone. My family packs up and travels the 100 yards or so to his little cabin where we meet the whole family for sausage biscuits, grape preserves, and orange juice.

While maybe my childhood Christmases in Deep Run weren’t postcard perfection, I don’t think there’s anywhere I’d rather be. My parents, my sister Leraine, and I live in Deep Run but my other sisters live elsewhere. But no matter what, we always come to home to Deep Run for Christmas. It’s never been questioned. We feel such a strong connection to this place and maybe feel Deep Run is the only place that’s appropriate for us to celebrate Christmas. I’ve wondered what will happen when my parents aren’t here anymore. Will we still all come here? I think the answer is probably yes.