A little over a week ago, I took a short trip down to Pismo Beach, in Central California that was sponsored by the California Strawberry Commission. My flight was short and pleasant, you can't beat the short one hour direct flight from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo Airport, which is located about 15 minutes away from the Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa. The resort is gorgeous and my view was spectacular. The long ocean stretch, morning fog, flying pelicans, crabs hiding under rocks and the sound of crashing waves mixed in with surfers and dolphins playing in the ocean, I couldn't have asked for more except that perhaps, I might one day be able to live in a house overlooking a beautiful ocean view like this. Central California is one of the best places in the country to grow strawberries because of the weather and the soil and these berries are supplied to the rest of the country year round.
This trip was all about the strawberries and yes, I got to pick and eat a lot (see the chocolate covered strawberries and creme brûlée below). The purpose of this trip was to learn about strawberry farming practice and the nutritional benefits behind strawberries and the trip was named 12 Reasons (though there are many more reasons to keep strawberries in your diet). The inner science nerd in me was very excited when we spent some time learning about all the wonderful work being done by the commission and the Strawberry Research and Sustainability Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They've been doing tons of research for a while such as growing better drought resistant and disease resistant strawberry plants (all non-GMO), creating and employing newer and more efficient methods to get rid of biological pests (natural predators and physical methods to get rid of bugs). California is suffering from a bad drought and it's important to use methods that conserve water and also use it efficiently, the farms are watered by a high-pressure drip system that uses less water to keep the crops growing. In addition to all this and this is something I really enjoyed hearing about, the Commission and the Center work together to train and certify the workers and managers at different farms in best farming and safety practices which gives them tools to become more competitive in the job market.
One of the first farms we visited was at Providence Farms in Santa Maria which is run by Tom Jones and his wife, Ruth. There were patches of land being prepared for tilling where eventually strawberry beds would be set up. There were long rows of white plastic blanketed soil where young strawberry plants grew out of little cuts in the plastic sheet. The younger immature plants have their flowers removed until the plants grow to an appropriate size which ensures a better quality fruit and plant in the future. We got to walk through the fields and taste the fresh ripe strawberries at the farm and also watch some of the workers lace the plant beds with predatory bugs that would kill off the mites that destroy strawberry plants. Eventually, Providence Farms hopes to expand to somewhere around 600 acres of pure organic strawberry fields. As it is there are approximately, 32,600 plants per acre and 600 acres would be an insane happy heaven of strawberry land.
From Providence Farms, we drove up to Presqu'ile Winery in Santa Maria where Italian Chef Alfonso Curti of Trattoria Uliveto had a a fun cooking demo and lunch spread set up for us. There was wine and strawberry flavored drinks and lots of delicious things to eat. The aged balsamic vinegar reduction with the fresh strawberries and basil over panna cotta was probably one of the most complex and refreshing desserts to eat on a hot summer day yet one of the most simple things to prepare. I fell in love with the interiors and exteriors at the vineyard, the aesthetic is simply gorgeous and the views breathtaking! Also how do they keep all their plants alive and so pretty?
On the final part of our journey, we visited a strawberry farm in an urbanized setting, owned by Luis Chavez. His story is fascinating and inspiring, an immigrant from Mexico, Luis through hard work over many years, now owns and runs a 300 acre strawberry farm. He was kind enough to let us fill up a clam shell box with fresh strawberries we picked from his farm. The day we visited his farm, the farm workers were picking out strawberries that would eventually find their way into jams, jellies and sauces. The work isn't easy and the weather was hot but at each farm I visited, I felt the personal connection and interest the way both Tom Jones and Luis Chavez spoke with passion about their farms and the people that work for them. And that goes along way.
This was a trip that made me appreciate all the hard work and passion that goes into producing one strawberry and the enormous impact this simple plant has. I can't thank California Strawberries enough, for such a fun and informative opportunity to learn about strawberries and strawberry farming.
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by California Strawberries and all opinions shared here are purely my own.