What happened to strawberries in 2019?
“You were only open for 1 week and you got picked out multiple times…”
Gorman Farms experienced a devastating loss in the strawberry crop leaving some customers disappointed. Refunds were offered to Strawberry Boost Members who paid in full for unlimited strawberry picking.
This response is for clarity to:
- Those who were denied entrance at the gates upon arrival due to mob like crowds.
- Those who entered the farm to experience picked out fields.
- Those who did not have the opportunity to pick at all or expected a longer season.
Strawberries are planted in the fall prior to a late spring picking. 2018 was one of the worst agricultural years for most farmers throughout the Mid-Atlantic. A few months post planting of our strawberry crop, our source for one of our staple strawberry varieties informed us that the transplants we received had issues that may result in plant loss. This made sense as some issues were already visible. While it is normal in farming to have some issues in the ground, we took expensive measures to protect and strategically maintain the remaining plants growing normally and showed no signs of issues. (Remember we grow organically, non-organic farmers have many tools in the tool box, we consciously choose not to)
The following spring when the plants woke up from dormancy we were surprised at how well the remaining plants looked. They grew with vigor and vitality. They put on great flowers which turn to great fruit. The fruiting process was strong and up to the status quo. We went all the way to ripening and just as the fruit turned red the plants began to decline. Several high heat days and a deluge of rain in May led to a total, almost overnight collapse of three fields of berries. These three fields were more than 50% of our intended 2019 strawberry crop. These were not only the most flavorful but they are the first to ripen, almost a week earlier than the other variety. They also tend to throw a last flush that often gives us an extra two weeks at the seasons end. This variety was vital to us having a 2-3 week picking season. We have seen up to four weeks of picking and thus positions the farm to have berries for the CSA program.
After spending more time and money cleaning up the fields by hand, we waited for the next flush of ripe fruit only to be hit by the same foul weather conditions. At this point all the un-ripened fruit was also blemished and three picking fields were devastated. We immediately removed the whole crop so the issue would not spread to the good fields. This left us with 50% less quantity on opening day and set the entire season back 1 week late for opening as we waited for the second variety to ripen.
Fast forward one week to the ripening of the only remaining varietal. Again, we had high heat and torrential rain almost daily. Destroying substantial quantities of pick-able fruit. The first round became ripe just after the weekend. This is troublesome as many people can’t make weekdays.
With ten years of experience managing pick-your-own strawberries, we have settled into a flow of what the weekday pickers vs. the weekend crowds looks like. It has been very consistent over the past few seasons allowing us to calibrate our quantity of berries planted, variety selection, staffing, and CSA participation around these dynamics. This season we hosted almost double the usual traffic. Weekdays were as busy as weekends and each day the only consensus was “this is an outlier and tomorrow will be normal”. With 50% less fruit and close to double the crowds we were picked out fast.
Fast forward to our first weekend and holiday opening, we saw crowds like never before. We are not poised to handle this many people on-sight. We opened at 10 am and were at max capacity by 10:10am. We do expect crowds on weekends, and are prepared to handle the larger volume. Even though we monitored every car in and out to maximize parking, safety immediately trumped all resources.
Over the past several seasons we have seldom experienced picked out days. We grow plenty to overcompensate for popularity increases. We have increased our staff and logistics proportionally in order to handle large crowds on these warm sunny weekends in May.
With that much unexpected traffic and the fields getting picked out, we have to leave the gates open to allow pickers to leave. Regardless of signage, people still enter. We immediately post on social media, the website and voice mail when changes to hours occur. We also place signs all over indicating the status. Much of this goes unnoticed when people become disappointed with high expectations of their day.
Sounds like a good problem to have. However, our reputation and quality is of upmost importance and the satisfaction of our CSA Members is at the top of that list. We are so disappointed to have not been able to meet expectations. Our hands were tied and we felt helpless to meet customer demand.
Plans to mitigate this for the future are already on the table as we plan for 2020.
We hope to gain your understanding of these events. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions. Please be respectful to our staff and understand we work with plants not robots. We are so grateful for this incredible community of environmentally conscious, local food supporters.