Local Strawberries Return to Kick Off Growing Season

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ohio ranks 10th nationally in the production of strawberries, and for many summer does not arrive until they have tasted those sweet, red strawberries.

The wait is over.

Huffman Fruit Farms on Lisbon Road near Salem already has strawberries in its market, one of the first in the region. Likewise, Molnar Farms on East Western Reserve Road, south of Poland, is scheduled to have them this week.

White House Fruit Farm, U.S. Route 62 near Canfield Road, had them available this weekend.

Festivals, deserts and cooking with berries will swiftly follow as the season for locally grown berries flies by in a month or less.

White House Fruit Farms is celebrating strawberry season by using some for its seasonal June strawberry donut.

Virginia Molnar of Molnar Farms said her bakery uses strawberries in pies, and she creates fresh strawberry jam, including strawberry rhubarb and triple berry, from some of the berries harvested there.

Whether you plan to turn them into jam, bake them into a pie or just savor them right off the vine, strawberries should soon be ready for those who want to venture out to their local farmers markets or even to pick the berries themselves.

For those who had some sticker shock last year, the prices are not expected to drop in 2023. Both Molnar and White House were charging $6.50 per quart in the store in 2022 and $18 per 4-quart basket when someone picked the berries themselves.

John Huffman said right now their strawberries are selling for $6.95 per quart, which seems to be the price that places along state Route 14 are asking.

Prices were not yet set at White House as of Friday afternoon, but owner Debbie Pifer points out that last year’s inflationary costs for plants, plastic containers and other items have not dropped, so the prices of the berries will not drop either.

Similarly, Molnar said the cost of labor and packaging has remained high for local farms.

But when it comes to this year’s harvest, Pifer is predicting it will be a normal or average year for strawberries. She believes in another week, White House Fruit Farm is going to be in full swing for the season. However, she is not one to count her berries before they are picked.

The 2022 harvest seen at Molnar Farms’ market.

“Strawberries are something you can’t tell from day to day,” Pifer said. “Disease rears its ugly head and you can go from a fabulous crop to nothing in a matter of days. Strawberries are very difficult to grow.”

For the latest information on when White House will have strawberries ready for purchase, when they will be available for picking them yourself and when other items come into season, Pifer urges people to stay connected through its social media pages.

Strawberries should soon be coming on strong, but right now they continue to be a little sparse until temperatures at night get closer to the heat the area has been experiencing during the day, according to Huffman.

“They like the heat,” Molnar said. “They will ripen them faster, but that leads to a shorter season.”

The farms sometimes water the plants in the afternoon to cool them down and slow the ripening.

“We need rain desperately,” Huffman said.

Until the berries come on strong, picking your own is off the table at the places that offer it. But in the meantime, local markets are already offering additional items.

Huffman’s has plenty of asparagus, the rhubarb is ready, and Swiss chard, which Huffman said can be turned into a tasty sautéed greens dish, is available. Lettuce is expected this week.

At Huffman’s, they are picking strawberries daily, and he expects them to last until around June 20.

Molnar said once strawberry season ends for them, around the beginning of July, that season hopefully will be followed quickly by sweet corn, peppers and tomatoes.

White House Fruit Farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Molnar Farms is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Huffman Fruit Farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The farm also has someone selling strawberries under a tent east of the Salem Walmart until sold out each day.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.