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Strawberry Fest fruits hail from outside Long Island

The peak season for strawberries on Long Island is in June after school is out. (PHOTO CREDIT: MCT CAMPUS)
The peak season for strawberries on Long Island is in June after school is out. (PHOTO CREDIT: MCT CAMPUS)

A typical spring at Stony Brook University celebrates local talent and businesses with Earthstock, the Roth Regatta and Strawberry Fest.

Despite common perception among Stony Brook students, the small delectable red fruits for Strawberry Fest are not obtained through local channels.

According to Angela Agnello, a spokeswoman for the Faculty Student Association, Campus Dining receives the strawberries for Stony Brook’s annual Strawberry Fest from Naturipe Farms.

“The peak season for Long Island strawberries occurs in June after the semester has ended,” Agnello said. “In order to hold the Strawberry Fest during the semester while students are still here, strawberries have to be transported in from a warmer climate.”

Naturipe Farm grows strawberries in Florida, California, Mexico and northern Chile, with their closest strawberry field to Stony Brook being in Florida.

According to Mary Catherine Heidenreich, a berry extension support specialist at Cornell University’s Department of Horticultural Sciences, in 2011,  The National Agricultural Statistics Service found that New York was number eight in strawberry production with 3.6 million pounds of fruit and 1,400 planted acres.

California ranked first and Florida ranked second.

Heidenreich said that strawberries do not really need a lot to grow—just a lot of rainfall and temperatures that are not too hot.

“Strawberries actually aren’t very fussy when it comes to growing,” Heidenreich said. “It’s really pretty forgiving in terms of climate.”

Long Island strawberries tend to blossom in mid-June.

According to Heidenreich, as a whole, the climate of the state of New York is mostly suited to grow strawberries, including the Finger Lake region upstate, the Albany area.

The only place Heidenreich could think of that might have problems was the northern bit of the Adirondack Mountains.

To plant commercial strawberries, growers purchase colonial propagated material, not seeds.

Early in the spring, the grower places an inactive plant and let the “runners” touch down on the soil.

The runners bloom and strawberries are cut out of flower beds. This is all part of what strawberry experts call a ‘matted row production system.’

Day neutral strawberries require more stringent growing conditions.

“I think they’re going for whatever is cheaper,” Ashley Torres, a senior business management major, said. “So if it’s cheaper far away, they go cheaper.”

Upon learning that the strawberries are not locally grown, Torres was surprised. She figured that it would be cheaper, in regard to shipping and handling, to have local strawberries.

Heidenreich thinks that if there is any problem with purchasing California strawberries, it has to do with a preference for taste. She noticed that California strawberries tend to be firmer and more robust.

“I like the New York strawberries because I grew up with them and I’m accustomed to them,” she said. “Is it because I grew up in the region? I’m not sure.”

In regard to the use of pesticides, Heidenreich does not think that New York strawberry growers use fewer pest management chemicals than California growers. (This also includes organic strawberry growers.)

Heidenreich also noted that growers feed their families the same fruit that they sell to distributors.

“I think it would be better if they got it from local farms but I don’t have a problem with that,” Stephanie DeFranco, a freshman biology major, said.

Fernando Galvan picks strawberries near his home in Rosario de Covarrubias, Mexico. (PHOTO CREDIT: MCT CAMPUS)
Fernando Galvan picks strawberries near his home in Rosario de Covarrubias, Mexico. (PHOTO CREDIT: MCT CAMPUS)
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