National Strawberry Day; a sign spring is one step closer
Southeast Louisiana strawberries make spring a little bit sweeter than anywhere else
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - While recent temperatures have felt like a jump start for the spring season, the first official day isn’t until March 20.
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But every year there are signs that spring is on its way. One of the earliest comes on Feb. 27 when National Strawberry Day is observed.
While the industry has shrunk over the decades, Southeast Louisiana still holds a strong presence in the strawberry industry with most of the production concentrated in the eastern part of the Florida Parishes: Tangipahoa, St. Helena, Livingston, Washington, and St. Tammany Parishes.
From now until late April, the strawberry crop in Louisiana is peaking and the state’s trademark red and juicy berries will be distributed across the nation.
The southern portion of Tangipahoa Parish is the state’s largest center of strawberry commerce with Ponchatoula serving its self-proclaimed title of “Strawberry Capital of the World” and hosting its annual Strawberry Festival every April. In 2022, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival fully returned after a 2-year absence related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Louisiana Strawberry Marketing Board is also located on Morrison Boulevard in Hammond, home of Southeastern Louisiana University’s “Strawberry Stadium”.
According to the state’s marketing board website, Louisiana’s strawberry roots date back to the 1800s during The Great Economic Migration. After the Civil War and just prior to World War II, waves of Italian and Hungarian immigrants settled in the Florida Parishes to become migrant workers or to start their own farms.
The crop peaked in 1931, with Tangipahoa Parish becoming the most important center of distribution as farms along the City of New Orleans rail line could ship as far north as Chicago and even by commercial truck on Highway 51. The activity was so heavy in the area that there was a boom of people moving into the area to farm and experiment with the fertile soil and temperatures to create new breeds of berries.
The Klondyke strawberry was cultivated in Tangipahoa Parish around the Independence area and the name was given to reflect how the growing industry at the time was like the “gold rush” that occurred in the American west and Alaska just prior to the Civil War.
Today, most Louisiana farms are small and independently run and some allow the public to come to pick their own berries to buy on-site.
The Ponchaotula Strawberry Festival is when a majority of the crop’s product gets moved, attracting visitors to the small city of fewer than 10,000 people from all over the U.S. This year’s festival will take place April 14-16.
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