Sustainable innovation extends local strawberry season

by | Apr 17, 2024 | Food and Recipes

The beginning of strawberry season is one of the most anticipated times of the year for local food lovers in Ontario. It used to be a crop limited to spring and early summer – but thanks to modern technology and sustainable production practices, we can enjoy the sweet, juicy, locally grown fruit right into late fall.

Berry growing in North America began changing in the late 1990s with the breeding of “day neutral” strawberries. Traditional strawberries set their flower buds the fall before as days get shorter, develop fruit as the days get longer in the spring, with berries ready for picking in June. The amount of daylight doesn’t matter to the new day neutral varieties, however, so they continue to make buds throughout summer and fall, dramatically extending berry season.

Strawberries are delicate fruits, vulnerable to weather damage and too much rain, which can cause pest and disease problems. To reduce food waste and create more sustainable, consistent production, an increasing number of farmers are now growing strawberries on table tops inside open ended plastic tunnels.

Although the plants aren’t physically producing more fruit, this system, widely used Europe, leads to less loss and waste. It protects the delicate fruit from weather-related damage and by raising the plants off the ground, will make it easier for farmers to use automated harvesting technologies in the future.

It also makes it easier to care for the plants. Tunnel-grown berries are on a drip irrigation system for water and fertilizer, which delivers the right amount of water and nutrients directly to the plants’ roots. This makes for healthier plants and reduces fertilizer runoff into surrounding soil and water.

Some Ontario farmers are also using new indoor production methods to grow strawberries under glass in greenhouses all year long.

Packed with vitamins, fibre and particularly high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, locally grown strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food.

Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping for local strawberries:

  • Berries that are completely red with no white or green spots and have a sweet smell.
  • Avoid crushed berries and be wary of berries packed in juice-stained containers.
  • Size doesn’t matter – all strawberries, large and small, are equally sweet and juicy.

Find more information about sustainable food production at ofvga.org

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