Strawberry farms among latest COVID-19 victims


HOLDEN, La. (LOCAL 33)(FOX 44) – The Ponchatoula Strawberry Fest is postponed until the end of strawberry season, leaving farmers struggling to recoup financial losses.

Strawberry farming isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes grit and discipline to grow the crop and make it sell for 94 years the Rhonda Poche,the owner of Landry-Poche Strawberry Farm, lived by that routine for 94 years. But COVID-19 is altering her plans.

“It would have been perfect this year, we’ve got tons and tons of strawberries,” Poche says.

Poche’s talking about the strawberry fest. Her family’s grown 32 years worth of product at that festival bringing in a big paycheck (thousands of dollars, thousands of dollars) but that’s money they won’t see this year.

“It’s going to be a financial impact because we sell so many flats of berries.”

COVID-19 postponed the fest until may…Which is the end of strawberry season. If the Poches tried to sell them then, they’d be overripe (can’t sell over riped strawberries). That spells a ten-thousand dollar loss for Poche’s farm. Money that would’ve been reinvested in the crop.

“Last week my payroll was almost $10 thousand dollars,” Poche says. “So when you lose $10,000 as far as income, it’s a real hardship on us.”

And the hits keep on coming. Coronavirus canceled school field trips and family picking days which is an even bigger loss. The farm charges 12 dollars a bucket and ususally sees 5,000 to 6,000 kids for the picking season. That’s another $60 to $70 thousand dollar loss plus the $10 thousand dollar loss from the Ponchatoula Strawberry Fest.

“If we let people come in and contaminate the fields, then we can’t sell anything.”

There’s a small silver lining for the farm. Her son added vegetables to the menu. So now, people can pick up squash, green beans and sweet onions in addition to the berries.

Customers like Brittany Lott are ready to help. Lott drover her kids 45 minutes from Baton Rouge to Holden just to buy locally owned strawberries from the Poches’.

“Instead of spending it with target or the big brands we wanted to help out the little people,” Lott says.

Waiting for COVID-19 to end is mounting pressure it effects next years supply and income. But the Poches’ are staying strong.

“God doesn’t close one door without opening five more,” Poche says.

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