Colorful heirloom and big red beefsteak tomatoes are covering the tables at farmers markets. However, another red fruit is exciting customers at the Mill City Farmers Market this August: strawberries.
Juicy, local strawberries are typically only available in early to mid-summer in our region, but Farmington-based Twin Cities Berry Company, founded in 2018, has a mission to provide locally grown, flavorful fruit outside of the typical short summer growing season.
Twin Cities Berry Company owner and farmer Andrew Petran is using season extension and his experience as a fruit researcher at the University of Minnesota to push fruit production past its normal harvest window while maintaining impeccable taste and quality.
“Most store-bought strawberries you eat in Minnesota are bad,” he said. “The strawberries we have access to 11 months out of the year were picked either in California or Mexico, and while they likely tasted good there, by the time a customer purchases a clamshell they could be over a week old. Strawberries are among the most perishable fruits available. They begin losing significant amount of taste and aroma within 48 hours of picking, even when stored cold.”
Furthermore, studies have shown fruit loses its nutritional value in shipping and on the supermarket shelves. That’s another reason Petran takes his strawberries to the farmers market within 24 hours of harvesting them.
“The strawberries we can offer are intrinsically superior to store-bought in almost every way; not because I’m a superior farmer, but simply because the fruit is young,” he said.
In addition to freshness, flavor is a key difference between store-bought and farmers-market strawberries. Like apples and tomatoes, there are many different varieties of strawberries with unique flavors, colors, sizes, disease resistances, bloom times and other characteristics — all of which Petran studied, working on his doctorate in plant biology. While most “big box” strawberry farms in California and Mexico choose their varieties with shelf life in mind, Petran chooses for flavor. Petran is currently growing six varieties: Albion, Mara des Bois, Monterey, Portola, San Andreas and Seascape.
Twin Cities Berry Company strawberries are also certified organic, ensuring they are GMO-free and safely grown without synthetic chemicals, using practices that build soil and pollinator health.
You can find Twin Cities Berry Company’s locally grown strawberries at the Mill City Farmers Market (704 S. 2nd St.) every Saturday through early October. Be sure to arrive early, since they sell out quickly! Learn more at millcityfarmersmarket.org.
— Jenny Heck
Beet and Strawberry Salad
Recipe courtesy of the Mill City Farmers Market • Makes about 2 cups
- 1 large beet, grated
- 1 cup packed beet greens and/or other greens (kale, spinach, etc.), chopped into bite-size pieces
- 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped strawberries
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Salt to taste
In a medium bowl, combine grated beets, chopped greens, sunflower seeds and chopped strawberries. In a small bowl or glass jar with a lid, mix or shake together the remaining ingredients until well combined. Just before serving, pour dressing over salad and toss until well-coated. Enjoy!