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Brandon News

Parkesdale celebrates end of record berry season

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2013 at 12:52 PM
PLANT CITY -

It was a day with a culinary first that helped wrap up a season that could be considered a sweet record-breaker.

The Parkesdale Farm Market held an “end of shortcake season” celebration on Sunday, partly to celebrate the end of the strawberry harvest season, partly to try a new business venture but mostly to put tasty treats in stomachs and smiles on a lot of faces.

At the venerable family-run strawberry oasis founded in 1956 by Roy Parke Sr., an estimated 3,000 visitors bought strawberries or citrus, dug into homemade strawberry shortcake or sampled fare from one of three food trucks in the parking lot.

As a line of about 60 people snaked around the market stand, Xiomara Meeks, Parkesdale’s business manager, said 2013 was a record year for the farm. She said it also helped inspire the family to add food trucks to the event for those not wanting a dessert lunch.

April 14 is the last day the company serves shortcake.

“Some friends were talking about food trucks around town and I said, ‘Let’s try it for the end of strawberry season,’” Meeks said.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., three trucks – St. Petersburg’s “Maggie’s on the Move,” “Brandon’s “Rollin’ Zoinks” and Tampa’s “Renny’s Oki Doki” – dished out Mediterranean and Korean dishes and gourmet subs and sandwiches. Since it was the first time Parkesdale invited the food trucks, no fee was charged to the owners to attend.

“I think people are excited about the trucks and they seem busy,” Meeks said.

Standing by “Maggie’s,” Mark Lautenschlager of Apollo Beach waited for a gyro. He said he wasn’t in the mood for strawberries.

“My wife is in their fighting the crowd so I figured I’d get something to eat,” Lautenschlager said. “These (food trucks) are getting more popular these days.”

Although the food trucks created a new diversion at the celebration, as usual, the focus was on the fragaria virginianas – strawberries.

Outside of the hubbub, Parkesdale farmer Matt Parke – Roy Parke Sr.’s grandson – was proud of the turnout and pleased with the 2013 harvest.

Hillsborough County is the hub of state's strawberry production, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, producing about 15 percent of the nation's strawberries or about 18 million flats per year.

Strawberries are farmed on about 11,000 acres in Florida.

The past few years have been a mixed bag for strawberry farmers. The 2010 season’s most profitable month was wiped out by two hard freezes and three weeks of bad weather before Christmas. In 2011, perfect weather allowed some growers to harvest before Thanksgiving and production was in full swing across the state before Christmas. In 2012, strawberry farmers bemoaned a larger-than-expected harvest due to warm weather — meaning turning a profit was difficult.

This year, Parke said the harvest was well over the average of 3,400 flats per acre, at about 13 pounds per flat. He said there were only two mild freezes for the season, compared to an average of 12.

According to the USDA, wholesale prices for Florida strawberries started the season at $26 per flat in early December and stayed about $15 into early January. Florida strawberry growers put their break-even price at $6 to $8 per flat, depending upon the size of the farm and individual production costs.

“It’s been a really good year. The conditions were better and we did well and I think it was overall, a pretty good year for everyone,” he said.

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