The annual Strawberry Picking Challenge is a great way for the community to step up and help local youth. The event raises money for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association.
In Plant City, strawberries are more than a sweet treat. The juicy berry is a way of life thanks to the abundance of strawberry farms that permeate the area.
Wish Farms and the Monte Package Company use the love of strawberries to help children in need with the annual Strawberry Picking Challenge. As teams fight for the chance to be dubbed the greatest pickers and families come out for a leisurely u-pick, the community raises money for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, a nonprofit that provides childcare and early education for children of migrant farm workers and rural low-income families
“The event kicks off with a dinner the sponsors go to on Friday night and those sponsors have the option of entering a team in the picking challenge the next morning, which is open to the public,” Clay Hollenkamp, community relations manager for RCMA, said. “The u-pick will also be going on at the same time as the picking challenge. The challenge will have teams with coaches who are crew leaders of local picking companies. They help them know what to do and how to do it. The teams are judged on the quality of what they pick, the time it takes them to do it and what is picked and left on the plant.”
This is the sixth year that Wish Farms has hosted the picking challenge, but its support for RCMA goes back more than a decade. Prior to the picking challenge Wish Farms hosted a tennis tournament to help raise money for the group.
Hollenkamp said the picking challenge is one of RCMA’s two biggest fundraisers each year, with the other being a golf tournament that takes place in another county.
“RCMA is a statewide nonprofit that operates 68 child development centers and three charter schools in 21 counties,” Hollenkamp said. “All of our locations are found in rural, low-income areas and we cater especially to the needs of the agricultural worker community.”
The money raised goes directly toward the operating budget of RCMA, which helps the schools have supplies, lunch for the kids and other general expenses. During the picking challenge there will be 25 to 30 third graders from an RCMA school coming out to sing a few songs and lead the pledge of allegiance.
Hundreds of attendees flood the farm and enjoy a lunch, fresh strawberry shortcake, games, photo opportunities and live performances. The children will also have the chance to participate in a strawberry shortcake eating contest where the winner usually walks away with tickets to the upcoming Florida Strawberry Festival.
The picking challenge is Saturday, Feb. 9 from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The event and parking are both free and the u-pick is $5 per quart. Anyone who wishes to become a sponsor to get a team in the race should contact Hollenkamp at email@example.com to see if there are spaces still available.
Last year the group raised approximately $100,000 and the goal Hollenkamp said is to match that this year.
If you go:
6th Annual Strawberry Picking Challenge presented by Wish Farms and Monte Package Company
Where: Fancy Farms, 3536 Futch Loop, Plant City, FL 33566
When: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 9
Cost: Free to the public, free parking. U-Pick Strawberries are $5 per quart