Ponchatoula Strawberries: Ripe for the picking

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PONCHATOULA, LOUISIANA (WGNO) — This weekend would normally be when the annual Strawberry Festival would take place. The festival just like most things is cancelled, bu there is still a lot of sweetness in the fields and hope ripening on the vine.

“It’s just like anything else. It is what it is and that’s part of farming. You have your good years and your bad years and it just so happens this is going to be our bad year,” says Heather Hughes the owner of Ms. Heather’s Strawberry farm.

“It’s a very unusual time for us right now. It’s in the middle of the day right now and we should be hustling and bustling and there’s nothing,” says mayor of Ponchatoula, Robert Zabbia.

Growing strawberries is like growing any of Louisiana’s produce. It’s a year round process. In the summer, the fertilizer goes down and the iconic strawberry field rows of Ponchatoula are made and lined with plastic. The plants go in the ground in October and by early spring the red jewels of fruit are ready for the festival. This years festival cancellation leaves farmers and venders with a dilemma of finding new innovative ways to get the word out that there is local farm raised strawberries ready by the flat.

“All the farmers are hurting. This is a time that we pick and go down the festival and sell. You hate to beg people to buy them but that is the only way to let them know you are here and ready to sell,” says Heather Hughes.

For close to 20 years, Ms. Heather’s farm has produced strawberries. The community of Ponchatoula is adhering to Governor John Bel Edwards’ orders of social distancing. Safety first is on everybody’s mind, but just like every other town in America, the coronavirus and the necessity of social distancing is not without consequence.

Mayor Zabbia says, “The Strawberry Festival is really key to our non-profit organizations and its a huge boost for our businesses as well. Most of the civic agencies and non profits make their entire budget that weekend. To have it pulled out from beneath us is disheartening but it’s the right thing to do.”

Our food in Louisiana is part of our identity and perhaps this is the time to gain the spirit of a farmer and remember that the rough times we are experiencing are to last but a season. Mayor Zabbia and the farmers say this year’s strawberries are part of a good crop. They want everyone to follow social distancing protocol, but if you see a basket of strawberries for sale in your area, take them home with you and help to feed a farmer’s family.

by: Christopher Leach

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