Make us your home page

Community angry over wasted strawberries

PLANT CITY — A sinkhole ruined Sandy Bruce's Plant City home, which sits just a few miles from strawberry farms that pumped millions of gallons of water to save their crops.

So when she found out Thursday that many farmers' berries are rotting on the bush because they can't sell them for a profit, she was furious.

"That is the most irritating thing in the world," she said. "I just thought, oh my God, I cannot believe all the suffering we have gone through since Jan. 12, and this is what's come out of it."

Evan Chrietzberg, whose Plant City home was condemned because of a giant sinkhole, said he understands that farmers are trying to run businesses, but "it's aggravating," he said.

Strawberry farmers say they're tired of being the bad guys. They're upset, too, because they'd like to be making a profit. But they're getting only about $6 to $7 a flat, and considering the labor, packaging and cooling costs, some would be operating at a loss if they picked.

"It's simple economics," said Florida Strawberry Grower Association president Ted Campbell. "If you can't afford to pay the pickers, you can't afford to pick."

Farmer Lane Wetherington said it's depressing to be constantly blamed, and farmer Carl Grooms said it's not farmers' fault they can't afford to pick. It's the market, which is out of their control, he said.

In March, strawberry crops from the North and California compete with local berries. The supply exceeds demand, pushing down prices.

"The most frustrated people in this situation is us growers," Grooms said. "It was our livelihood."

But many are asking: If farmers can't afford to pick their berries, why not let others? It's the waste that bothers them.

Stacey Efaw, the director of the Brandon-based Emergency Care Help Organization, or E.C.H.O., a food bank just a few miles from several strawberry farms, said she could get groups of high school students who need community service hours into the fields to pick for her organization.

"That would be awesome," she said. "We hardly get fresh produce. It's very expensive."

Margie Lewis, the coordinator of the Tampa-Lakeland area Gleaners organization, said she has local Girl Scouts who could pick leftover berries to donate to local food banks.

"It's such a sad thing to let them go to waste," she said. "Especially when people are hungry."

Some farmers are willing to let U-pickers or charities onto their property, but the specter of a potential lawsuit scares others. Grooms said he has never been sued, but a woman who suffered heat exhaustion in his field decades ago died in the hospital, he said, and cars have gotten stuck in ditches.

"I've had some incidents where I've got cussed out royally," he said.

Also, many strawberry farmers plant spring crops — such as squash, beans and cantaloupe — between their berry plants, and they don't want the public to damage them.

Still, Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, said he understands that people are angry.

At lunch on Thursday, he and three of his employees discussed the community backlash.

"So we said, 'Why don't we open up our fields to the food banks?' " he said.

Late Thursday, Wishnatzki announced he would open a part of his field to the public on Saturday.

He's inviting people to pick for Feeding America Tampa Bay, formerly America's Second Harvest, and to pick for themselves.

"We wanted to do something positive," Wishnatzki said. "I don't see any reason why we shouldn't."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

.Fast facts

Free U-pick at Wishnatzki Farms

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: 2500 Sparkman Road in Plant City.

What: A free strawberry U-pick. Donations to Redlands Christian Migrant Association are encouraged.

Interested in gleaning?

Call the Society of St. Andrew at 1-800-806-0756.

Community angry over wasted strawberries 03/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 25, 2010 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New stores coming to Tyrone Square Mall, like Bath & Body Works


    Tyrone Square Mall will welcome a half dozen new stores, like Bath & Body Works and MidiCi's The Neapolitan Pizza Company, this summer.

  2. Target Corp. reaches $18.5 million settlement with 47 states over data breach


    Target Corp. has agreed to pay Florida $928,963 out of a newly-announced $18.5 million settlement over a huge data breach that occurred in late 2013.

    Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have reached an $18.5 million settlement with Target Corp. to resolve the states' probe into the discounter's massive pre-Christmas data breach in 2013. 
[Associated Press]
  3. Gov. Rick Scott's family history of alcohol abuse could decide 'liquor wall' bill


    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott must decide Wednesday whether to let Walmart and other big-box stores sell liquor, and he says a factor in his decision is the history of alcohol abuse in his family.

    Florida Governor Rick Scott is considering a veto of a bill that would allow Walmart, Target and other big box retail stores to sell liquor. [Andres Leiva | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. As St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit broadens its business, it shrinks its name to Jabil


    St. Petersburg's Fortune 500 company, Jabil Circuit, informally tossed aside the "Circuit" in its name some time ago. That's because circuit board manufacturing, the company's core business for decades, has been squeezed out by a broader business agenda ranging from consumer packaging to supply chain management.

    Jabil Circuit informally dropped "Circuit" from its marketing material and signage, like at its St. Petersburg headquarters, years ago. Now it's official.
[Times file photo]
  5. Kahwa Coffee to open second drive-thru store in St. Petersburg


    Kahwa Coffee will open its 12th location and fourth with a drive-thru in a former "farm store" in St. Petersburg.

    Kahwa Coffee will open its 12th location and fourth with a drive-thru in a former "farm store" in St. Petersburg.
[Times file photo]