The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival (April 11-13; www.lastrawberryfestival.com) celebrates the state's strawberry crops at the height of their historical growing season. Growers like Liuzza Produce Farm (www.louisiana- strawberries.net) set up booths at the festival's Farmers' Row, where Liuzza sells fresh berries, chocolate-dipped berries, strawberry shortcake and strawberry lemonade. Owner Anthony Liuzza presides over the five-generation family business that typically plants 100 acres of strawberries in Tangipahoa Parish. He spoke with Gambit about strawberry farming and this year's crop.
How is this year's strawberry crop?
Liuzza: We're picking a lot of berries (now). We had a really hard winter — a 50-year winter. It started in November: There were freezes and more freezes and then sleet and snow. We are fortunate to have what we have.
(Many growers) didn't start harvesting berries until the end of March. (Liuzza Produce Farm) didn't have any volume to harvest until March 22. Normally we start harvesting the first of November, but we were delayed by many months this year. We had a little harvest early, but the volume was so small that it wasn't worth going out and picking them.
How much of your farm is dedicated to strawberries?
L: We grow more vegetables than berries. We raise a full line of vegetables and Creole tomatoes. We start cabbage at the end of April. Cucumbers and squash we start mid-May. Peppers and tomatoes we start the last week of May. But strawberries are a very important crop to a lot of Louisiana farmers.
How are Louisiana strawberry farmers faring?
L: If people want to see us in business, they need to ask for Louisiana berries, not California berries. California has ideal conditions; they harvest berries for six to nine months.
Louisiana strawberries are not a giveaway. But they're a good value.