Plant City, FL, is the self-proclaimed “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World,” a moniker that was thrust upon the city more than a century ago, when innovator Henry Plant decided to build a railroad to Tampa, which allowed growers the perfect opportunity to market their strawberries to the East Coast.
Today, strawberries from Plant City go from farm-to-store or farm-to-restaurant without a storage facility.
The Florida strawberry season began somewhat slowly this year due to hotter temperatures than normal, but by late spring, the weather was good and the plants were producing a flood of flavorful berries.
Mark McDonald, president of Sweet Life Farms, said the weather was mirroring what was happening elsewhere, which accounted for a larger supply of strawberries all around, lowering prices. Still, his farm had a solid season with a million-and-a-half flats going out.
“Our goal with strawberries is to offer the care and attention to detail some bigger farms can’t promise,” he said. “To us, it’s about quality, not quantity. Our roots go back to over half a century ago so we know what matters most to the consumer, and that is quality and consistency. We want to bring you the best, and we’ll strive for nothing less than that.”
The Florida Strawberry Association said that more than 11,000 acres of berries are grown in the area each year, with Hillsborough County producing about 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries and virtually all the berries grown during the winter.
Overall, strawberries represent more than $700 million for the state’s economy, thanks to 20 million flats produced each year.
The Florida Strawberry Research & Education Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, which works to breed commercially grown strawberries for Florida growers and other markets.
Vance Whitaker, a University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Services associate professor of horticultural sciences and a strawberry breeder, said the UF/IFAS strawberry breeding program has been developing strawberry varieties for nearly 70 years and the strawberries are developed using a conventional breeding process of selecting seedlings, which later become new parents for the next cycle of crossing.