In spite of drought conditions over much of Texas and a few days of scattered severe weather in South Texas, strawberry producers in and around Poteet are reporting plenty of fresh, sweet strawberries were available for the annual Poteet Strawberry Festival held April 12-14.

Each year the annual event attracts over 100,000 visitors from across the state who are often willing to drive long distances to participate in the state strawberry capitol’s famous event, arguably Texas’ sweetest festival.

Poteet, located just south of San Antonio, sits on the eastern reaches of the Texas Winter Garden region and is noted for artesian wells that supply water for farming operations. While the current drought cycle has taken its toll on agricultural operations in general across the region, Poteet’s famous strawberry operations continue to do well because of high consumer demand, and as a result of the large number of family farms in the area that allocate available water first to strawberry fields and also enjoy direct farm-to-market relationships with loyal customers.

“Just about every strawberry grower in Atascosa County has struggled with the drought, but between well water and just enough timely rains, we managed to struggle through and produce another good strawberry crop. Some folks lost some plants and others complained more water would have made the season better, but we’re still getting strawberries out of the field,” reported one of the festival workers over the weekend.

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Indeed, judging by heavy crowds that swarmed into this rural community with a resident population of just over 3,000, there were a lot of strawberries produced this year. Festival officials only allow “Poteet growers” to sell berries on the fairgrounds and there wasn’t a shortage of local farms represented. Strawberry booths were kept busy throughout the weekend with large crowds gathering to taste sweet treats like strawberries and cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jellies and jams, cakes made with fresh strawberries and, of course, to purchase flats of the sweet delights freshly handpicked from the fields.

Direct sales strong

While more than a few local farmer booths ran out of strawberries before the festival ended, most reported more berries would be ripening in the days ahead and said there will still be fresh berries available in the coming weeks.

While commercial strawberry production in Texas is not significant, the direct sale of fresh strawberries from farm-to-consumer remains strong. In fact, the strawberry farm-to-consumer niche is growing across the state. The large number of family farms in Atascosa County, for example, reports significant direct sales compared to commercial sales of both strawberries and fresh vegetables. And the county is not alone in leading the way in popular “direct sales” marketing.

Officials with Marburger orchards in Gillespie County, located in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio, have expanded their successful “pick-your-own peaches” program to include fresh strawberries and blackberries and other fresh vegetables each year as well. Owner Gary Marburger says it has been a good year for strawberries and crowds are still gathering each weekend to take advantage of a bountiful season. By the time strawberries stop producing, blackberries should be ripe and ready to pick.

He reports direct sales to consumer is the backbone of his family business and says it provides a good way to maximize profits. Selling to the consumer allows farmers to eliminate the middle man, “guaranteeing the freshest product at the most reasonable price.”

What many family farms are discovering is that consumers are often willing to pay as much for farm-sold fruits and vegetables as they are for the same products in grocery stores. Many consumers say they are looking for “farm fresh” products, but a growing number are reporting trips to “pick-your-own” farms provide family outings or getaways, as an added bonus.

Farmers manning food booths at the Poteet Strawberry Festival over the weekend say without direct sales to consumers, the livelihood of their farm operations would be at stake, and most agree that a one-on-one relationship with their most loyal customers adds a dimension to their specialty crop business they would miss if they operated commercial farms.

One grower summed it up by saying direct consumer sales is, “simply put, a family tradition.”

 

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