Among the rolling hills of Santa Maria, California are acres and acres of strawberry fields. This was the picturesque setting for a #BehindtheBerry look at California strawberry farming. The California Strawberry Commission recently invited 10 influencers out to the farm to experience the extraordinary care it takes for our family farmers and farm workers to sustainably grow and harvest strawberries and to hear about the economic impact this crop has on local communities.
Stepping onto Golden State Farms, attendees were greeted by Mayra Paniagua and her family – a family who is living proof as to why strawberries are known as a crop of opportunity. From strawberry pickers to farm owners, their incredible family story is one that should have its own novel or movie.
Attendees were especially drawn to Mayra’s story and the stories of so many other Latino farmers. Many didn’t know that California strawberry fields provide some of the best paying jobs and benefits for rural communities, and strawberry farming has given immigrants more ownership opportunities than any other major crop. In fact, Latinos comprise two-thirds of strawberry growers in California, and many of them started out as pickers and field workers just like Mayra’s parents.
Throughout the tour, Mayra shared some of the sustainability practices she’s implementing on her farm – from planting border crops to attract beneficial insects to using mechanical bug vacuums to suck up harmful pest insects from the plants – all to reduce the need for pesticides. Mayra, like most California strawberry farmers, also utilizes drip irrigation to give each strawberry plant the precise amount of water needed and conserve usage.
Strawberries are hand-picked with care by skilled pickers and packed directly into clamshells right in the field. Those clamshells are then packed up and shipped out to grocery stores across the country within 24 hours. To demonstrate the great care and skill involved in picking and packing strawberries, attendees were challenged to see how quickly they could pack their own clamshells. It was not an easy feat!
Following the tour of the ranch, a local chef prepared a delicious DIY taco bar right on the farm. There were fresh heirloom corn tortillas being made on site, a sweet and spicy strawberry salsa, and some beautiful salads filled with fresh strawberries (of course!). A perfect end to a perfect day on the farm!