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Strawberry week?

When you are home, spending much of your time feeding a baby, the vast majority of your exploring and travel is done via the Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader apps on your iPhone (OK, maybe that’s just me, but it’s working…).

So I have to thank Miller Farms for their up-to-the-minute Facebook updates on the conditions in their strawberry patch. I am not kidding (and they have not paid me for this plug). When it rained last week, farmer Ben Miller posted regularly on the specific conditions of the strawberry patches where their pick-your-own berry business operates. He told readers where the mud was, how to avoid it and how the supply of berries was coming along. It was like a virtual trip through a strawberry patch.

Miller’s updates came a week ahead of a press release from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services touting this year’s strawberry crop in the state. You can find additional information on pick-your-own operations at the department’s website, or through its smartphone app.

Stay tuned for more on cooking with strawberries later this week. In the meantime, here are VDAC’s notes on strawberries in Virginia:

The 2011 crop is excellent across the entire state. Strawberry plants thrive in cool, dry temperatures and that is what Virginia’s weather has been this spring. The plants are large and full of blooms and berries. Most strawberry fields in Virginia are plasticulture berries, which means the plants are set out in the fields in bedded rows of plastic. The raised beds make picking easier and weed free and the berries are clean.

Virginia boasts about 250 acres of strawberry fields. That number is small compared to many other crops, but since the average yield from an acre of land is 18,000 pounds of strawberries, it actually represents a significant agricultural crop. “For many growers, especially small farmers, strawberries are an excellent cash crop and a great way to produce income in what is an off-season for many other crops,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. He says that farmers who devote an acre or so to strawberries among more traditional crops like corn, soybeans or wheat get that extra cash boost before their major crops mature. “Many farmers turn strawberries into an agritourism venue,” he says, “and when people come to the farm to pick berries, they also enjoy things like petting zoos, an on-farm shop, plant sales and farm activities. I know of one farmer who takes his strawberries and makes some of the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.” Lohr says that pick-your-own farms also provide two other very important services: they educate people about the importance of agriculture and they provide something consumers may not be able to find anywhere else, the experience of a day on a farm.

Strawberry season generally lasts through early June in Tidewater, late June in cooler parts of the state. VDACS advises consumers to call before heading to a farm or market to check hours and fruit availability. The best time for picking berries is early morning.

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