Get to Know the Face of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association
by JULIE GMITTER
While most Florida residents (and fruit lovers from around the country) are well aware of just how sweet, red, and juicy our Florida strawberries are, they may not be familiar with Jammer – the adorable talking, singing, animated strawberry! Jammer is the official mascot of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. He visits schools and attends special events throughout the state to help spread the story of the unique and sometimes tricky process of growing strawberries here in the Sunshine State.
Florida’s strawberry season is unique because during the winter, when most of the strawberry producing regions in the country are covered in snow, the temperatures and sandy soil here in Florida are perfect for developing the deep red color and sweet flavor we attribute only to our delicious Florida strawberries. Every year from around Thanksgiving to Easter, Florida is a major producer of strawberries. Many Floridians may not know that Hillsborough County – more specifically Plant City – is actually the Winter Strawberry capital of the world.
Teachers and educators around the state are encouraged to invite Jammer to visit their school to help educate their children on the importance of agriculture. Educators can also request educational packets for their students as well on the website. Jammer is the star of his very own educational videos which can be viewed by kids, parents, students, and teachers alike. Follow this link to watch Jammer in action! You may have seen Jammer’s picture on strawberry containers, coloring books, or even billboards across the state. If you or your children are not familiar with Jammer, look him up and make sure you “like” him on social media because he even has his very own Facebook page! He may be a star now, but the story of his “roots” is very interesting as well.
Sarah Williams of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association explained Jammer’s history and shared some interesting facts about how he came to “fruition.” In 2009, Sue Harrell had the innovative idea to create a video with an animated strawberry depicting the growth and harvest process for children. She then partnered up with creator Sean Sanzcel to create the video and thus, Jammer was born!
“The most amazing thing about Jammer is how engaged people are when they watch the video, they remember the songs and facts from the video. We have played the video to groups from preschool up to adults, and at the end we always ask questions from the video and no matter what age group they know the answer. Four year olds learn that strawberries start off as little white flowers, after watching the video, it just seems to get the information to stick with people,” says Williams.
The strawberry suit came after the video, and Sarah Williams has been in the suit herself, as well as many other student volunteers, growers, and FSGA staff members over the last 10 years. She divulged that although the suit is very hot (especially in the Florida heat) and large (it will not fit through a regular door, so double doors are a must for indoor appearances), it is impossible not to smile when posing for photo ops or taking selfies with the children at events.
“As far as the suit character engaging an audience, even if you haven’t seen the video, it’s hard to resist taking a selfie with a giant strawberry, and sharing our hashtags or tagging us is sharing our message, with just a picture and a link back to our association,” Williams adds.
Looking ahead to the future for Jammer, Sarah has some ideas for other videos, including one depicting how the strawberries get from the field to the grocery store.
“Even though the strawberries are packed right in the field, the process of cooling and shipping them to a store or distribution center then grocery store would be interesting because of how perishable strawberries are, it all must be done so quickly,” she explains.
Of course, Jammer’s main goal is to educate kids and kids at heart about Florida strawberries and agriculture, and children learn best by being fully engaged in what they are learning. Teaching Florida youth about agriculture doesn’t have to be difficult. “It can be as simple as putting it on their level and making it interactive, because kids love asking and answering questions when talking about Florida agriculture, so we should make sure we give them that opportunity.”
Starting children’s interest in agriculture early is important to our future, as well as the future of Florida agriculture. And, what better way to pique their interest than with a fun, cute, live character like Jammer. We look forward to seeing more of Jammer in the future! To view the full set of educational videos and for those interested in scheduling Jammer to appear at an upcoming event, visit floridastrawberry.org/education.