Florida’s Strawberry Success More Than a Century in the Making
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
In case you haven’t heard, Hillsborough County’s Plant City is renowned as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World and has been for quite some time. Have you ever wondered how that came to be?
Back in the 1800s, Plant City’s agricultural industries were focused on lumber, cotton, citrus, and cattle. Then the “Great Freeze” of 1894-1895 occurred, decimating the area’s established crops. This was devastating to the local growers, and they were reluctant to replant their groves and fields with the same trees and crops that had been destroyed that winter.
A handful of innovative thinkers chose to try growing strawberries and were surprised to see how well the fruit handled Florida’s cold weather. More farmers jumped on the berry bandwagon, and by 1930 the strawberry fields were so productive that the city established the Florida Strawberry Festival to show their enthusiastic gratitude for the enormously positive economic impact the fruit had on their community.
Florida Strawberries Today
For more than a century, Florida’s strawberry production has been an important part of the state’s economy, currently contributing more than $1 billion in economic impact each year. There are more than 12,000 acres of strawberries planted in Florida, with the majority of those in and around Plant City. They produce about 300,000 pounds of strawberries each year. In 2021, the crop value of harvested berries in Florida was close to $400 million.
Only one state, California, outpaces Florida in strawberry production in the U.S., but Plant City strawberries have the advantage when it comes to season. California’s peak harvest begins in the early spring, while Florida berries are available beginning at the end of November. December and January are the months of greatest yields for Florida strawberry growers, although their fields will continue to produce fruit generally into April.
Florida Strawberry Festival Attracts Huge Crowds Every Year
Another way the state benefits from the cultivation of these deliciously popular fruits is through the annual celebration of all things strawberry-related at the Florida Strawberry Festival. This will be the 88th year Plant City has hosted the annual fair.
The population of Plant City is just shy of 40,000 permanent residents. Every year, roughly half a million visitors flock to the Florida Strawberry Festival to enjoy big name musical acts, thrilling carnival rides, exciting midway games, vendors selling a multitude of unique wares, and – of course – lots of strawberry shortcake. Maybe not every visitor to the fair gobbles up the delightfully sweet traditional dessert, but about 200,000 do every year.
The Florida Strawberry Festival has a significant economic impact on the Tampa Bay area. Hundreds of local individuals are employed by the fair, relying on this eagerly anticipated event each year to supply them with necessary income to support their families.
Agriculture students benefit greatly from the Florida Strawberry Festival, as it provides an outstanding platform for the young people to show and sell the steers, swine, and plants they’ve raised throughout the year. Over the last two years, those students have received $3 million dollars to pursue their educational goals through their own hard work.