The Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s booth at the Florida Strawberry Festival is a great place to learn about Florida strawberries.
Everyone loves biting into a fresh, juicy Florida strawberry. The Florida Strawberry Growers Association hopes everyone will also love learning about each berry’s journey from the farm to your hands.
The FSGA’s booth, a Florida Strawberry Festival staple of more than 30 years, is more than just one of the coolest displays you can see at the festival. It’s a hub of learning, a place where all of your questions about Plant City’s greatest export can be answered.
“We educate consumers and fair-goers from all over the world on how berries are grown commercially in the state of Florida, and how important the ag industry is to this community,” FSGA marketing director Sue Harrell said.
The experience offered by the FSGA booth is about as close as one can get to being on a strawberry farm without trespassing or waiting for a u-pick event. The John Deere tractors next to the rows of berries are real and functional, and fair-goers can also learn about them as well as antique tractors. The strawberry plants that line the ground in front of the informational booth and porch areas are 100 percent real, too. Volunteers, such as Berry Bay Farms’ Todd Jameson and Mike Lott of Mike Lott Farms, work the area in the same way as anyone in town with a 90-acre farm. The berries begin growing in October, concurrent with the start of strawberry season, and are later hand-planted into the ground at the festival.
“We put in a real, working strawberry field here for two weeks so they can experience going and looking at a real field with all the different stages of the strawberries growing,” Harrell said. “You’ve got things from the flower to the green berry, you can see the runners on the plants, see how we actually plant the plants and put the plastic down. Learn why we use the plastic, why we use the drip irrigation. We answer all these questions with signage going around it and we also have an ‘Ask a Farmer’ area.”
That area, styled to look like the front porch of a farmers’ home, is sometimes occupied for several hours a day by retired growers Buddy and Melba Sewell. The Sewells will be happy to answer any questions you have while sitting in their rocking chairs. Like the famous strawberry throne at Parkesdale’s booth, the porch is a popular photo spot among festival-goers for its uniqueness, sunflowers in bloom and, in some cases, the Sewells themselves. Harrell said many families, often local, stop by the porch every year decked out in strawberry-themed clothes to pose for photos.
One thing you can’t do, however, is pick the berries. The fields are roped off anyone caught sneaking in for a snack will be removed from the area, no matter how young or old they are.
“A lot of people will sneak their little kids in, but the whistle will blow,” Harrell said.
With more than 500,000 people from around the United States and the rest of the world coming to the festival annually, the booth is also one of the FSGA’s best resources for getting consumers’ attention. Harrell said the impact the booth has over 11 days is massive.
“We can do stuff all year round but this is really important,” she said. “We see more people here than we could anywhere else.”
The booth is located just west of the Publix Entertainment Tent, backing up to Reynolds Street.