The Local Food Report: strawberry land

Welcome to Tony Andrews Farm:

We're in East Falmouth, off Old Meetinghouse Road, and the farm's been here since 1935. Jeff Andrews' father Tony started it with his uncle after coming into town in 1927 from Cape Verde, and at one point, the farm had 23 acres—all strawberry land.

Tony was part of a wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants that settled East Falmouth in the 20s and 30s. He came in as a crew member on a cargo ship, a three mast schooner that was owned by Rhode Islanders and re-possessed on what was supposed to be a return trip. He found family in Falmouth and started working the cranberry bogs, and eventually, he saved up enough to buy land. His story is a common one; the people who remember still call St. Anthony's the church built by strawberries, and it's true. Strawberries in East Falmouth were big business way back when.

The soil in East Falmouth is what made the industry such a success. It's a coarse, sandy soil called Carver soil, with the high acidity and good drainage that strawberries like. At the height of production, the town grew half of the strawberries consumed in Massachusetts, and was the biggest growing region north of Maryland. (That's according to a recent article in Edible Cape Cod about the history of the strawberry industry in Falmouth; to read more—and it's very interesting, so if I were you I would—head on over here.)

It wasn't until the 40s and 50s that production started going down. Tourism and development were starting to grow on the Cape, and the farmers in East Falmouth started selling off their acres, one by one. It was hard to get workers at picking time, too; Jeff Andrews remembers his parents bringing up families from Rhode Island to pick, and housing them all through June. When even the seasonal workers stopped coming in the 70s and 80s, they decided to open the fields to pick-your-own, and today, that's still how Jeff makes things work.

He's open every morning during the season, from eight a.m. to noon—any later, he says, and he gets determined folks passing out from heat and sun stroke. Mostly it's the old timers that come, but there are also a few young families mixed in. The day I went, Monday, I picked 16 pounds, and my only companion was this gentleman, and his Maxwell can.

If we want the tradition to stick around—if we want to hang on to one of the only commercial strawberry farms left in what was once a strawberry producing town—we'd better step up. Jeff says he won't quit, and he's got three boys, so the farm will keep on no matter what. But I'm guessing it would help if business picked up. He gets a good crowd for pumpkins in the fall and other crops, but strawberries, he says, just keep petering out.

The season's in full swing right now. This week, I picked for my freezer—washed and sliced the berries, sprinkled them with the tiniest bit of sugar, let them juice, and packed them into containers—and I put up 15 pints.

Next week, I'm thinking I'll go for jam.

P.S. The annual Falmouth Strawberry Festival is coming up. It will be held from 10am to 2pm on Saturday, June 19th across the street from the Village Green on the lawn at St. Barnabas church. Jeff says they don't always use his fresh strawberries—because the festival is so late—but they do use them for the jam demonstration. To find out more, head on over here.


andrea said...

We picked there on Tuesday - 13# (plus the pound or two my 3 yo ate!) Already fed the freezer, a few pints of strawberry-rhubarb jam in the pantry, and a batch of strawberry-rhubarb muffins waiting for the oven.

The sheer abundance of strawberries was amazing - it was hard to stop picking and balancing just one more berry on the already heaping pile. I just hated to see all the beautifully ripe berries that were already languishing on the plants. Wish there was a better way to get that abundance used. Picking parties for the service center?

Elspeth said...

andrea, the abundance was amazing, wasn't it? i had a hard time stopping picking, too, and there were definitely already a bunch of over ripe berries. it seems like there should be a way to get them into schools or something...

Rachel said...

Thank you for your post and you report on the radio, we went down to the farm today and got a whole bunch of delicious peas and strawberries. We would never have known if we didn't hear the food report.

Elspeth said...

rachel, that makes me so happy to hear. i'm glad you ended up going and even happier to hear there were peas! i am hoping to make another trip for peas next week—were they shucking or sugar snaps? thanks so much for the feedback, and hope you are enjoying the berries.

all the best,

Rachel said...

Sugar Snap and they were WONDERFUL

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