Updated: Mar 6
By Scott Lamb
What is the one fruit that captivates the eye, sends our taste buds crying for more, and leaves our mouths stained red with the love we share on the 14th of every February? The Strawberry of course!
This little fruit, with its origins scattered all across the globe, captivates our hearts and our appetites to no surprise. After all, it is in the family of one of the most beloved flowers, the rose family. While this berry has become abundantly available year round, it’s ever-presence seems to be begging us to listen to the lessons it has to give.
Lesson #1: Seed Sovereignty
As seed sovereignty and seed saving is a topic best understood by Indigenous communities I will defer to them to define what it is and why it is important.
“Seed Sovereignty is the right of a farmer to save, use, exchange and sell his or her own seeds. ... As large commercial agricultural interests begin to claim ownership over seeds, many farmers and Indigenous communities will have difficulty in saving local seeds that have existed in their communities for centuries.”
See the full publication here:
With that in mind, I would like you to know that most, if not, all strawberries at our grocery stores are incapable of having their seeds successfully saved. That fact coupled with the above information supplied by First Nations People’s clearly show that if we want these delectable fruits to feed our minds and souls as much as our stomachs then perhaps the hybrid (meaning it cannot reproduce by seed) grocery store strawberry is a rejection of seed saving and cultural heritage, and therefore needs to change to more heritage and heirloom varieties (varieties in which seeds can be reproduced by seed).
Saving seed is perhaps one of the most radical things a grower can do. Not only does it promote indigenous rights to maintain culture and heritage (which is perhaps the most important thing a white farm like ours can do), but it also creates a more resilient food system. Which brings me to the next lesson of the humble strawberry…
Lesson #2: Resiliency of Food Through Natural Selection
Despite the regularity that stalk of celery in your grocery store might suggest, our current food system is so fragile that one failing, one blight, one disease could wipe out an entire shelf in your local food store. Look no further than the Panama disease that ravaged the banana industry. If you’re unfamiliar with this I encourage you to explore it with this wonderfully articulate article: https://www.google.com/amp/s/theconversation.com/amp/the-quest-to-save-the-banana-from-extinction-112256
Most Strawberries we consume are what we call a hybrid variety. Meaning that instead of being propagated by seed, it is propagated by cloning. In the case of strawberries, by separating runners and selling them to farmers as bare root plants. By doing this, strawberry plants are not able to adapt as readily to the increasingly volatile environments they exist in. This is so because by cloning a variety we are not allowing successful genetic adaptations to flourish. And we are basically growing varieties that were resilient to their environment several if not many years ago, but are no longer as reliable.
This doing-away with natural selection creates a massively risky situation in which the humble strawberry may very well have the same fate of the banana if we are not careful. And we will continue to get closer to that reality year after year if we do not change our ways. Which leads me to the last lesson…
Lesson #3: The Beauty of Seasonality
By now many of us have heard about the seasonality of our food. Springtime for asparagus, summer for tomatoes, and fall for apples. Where I live, in Kansas, we get to experience the beauty of the ever changing seasons year after year (a thing so wonderful it deserves its own dedicated blog post). This changing of temperatures, daylight hours, precipitation, and so much more are one of the most important things to life on planet earth. And of course, amidst that life what do we find? Ah yes. Again, the Humble Strawberry.
The fruit, like many of today’s iconic fresh food staples, produces best during the not-too swelteringly-hot summer days. In the winter it goes into dormancy, as it gets some much deserved rest before the next cycle of growing. It goes through this cycle several times before petering out and passing on its strawberry growing responsibilities to the next generation.
However, with the expectation that we have Strawberries available (with the same quality I might add) in January as July this appreciation of seasonality has been forgotten. Have you ever bitten into a vibrantly red strawberry in January only to find that, unlike it’s summertime counterpart, it tastes more like crunchy water than a Strawberry? That is because in order to even have Strawberries available during the winter they must be flown in from another country, sometimes another continent! For them not to rot before they get to your grocery stores shelves they have to ripen off the vine, and so are picked early, before all those yummy natural sugars have time to develop. Now what’s wrong with this other than the disappointingly bland fruit you just ate? One picture speaks a thousand words. So go on, take a gander:
No wonder our super market strawberries taste like crunchy water, one look at this photo and You can see why.
In conclusion. Strawberries have many lessons. These mentioned are just 3.
We have much to learn. The disappointing winter berries, corporate cloning of plants, disregard for seed saving and cultural heritage all serve as reminders that perhaps our greatest teachers come humbly. If we take the time to listen to the lessons of our humble friend the strawberry, perhaps we may not only save it’s future, but also our own.
Looking for what this means for you as either a consumer or producer? Posts to follow will address these questions and you will be able to find the links in several places, one of which will be here.