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Virginia farmers opening strawberry stands and fields ahead of schedule this spring

Crystal Graham
handful of strawberries
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Throughout Virginia, farmers are opening U-pick fields and farm stands for the start of strawberry season. Thanks to a mild winter, berries are ripening ahead of schedule this year.

“This is probably one of the better crops we’ve had,” said Rob French of Sunnyside Farms in Cumberland County. “We started picking last week so our stands are open, and we have strawberries.”

French’s berries started ripening a week ahead of schedule this year, something he attributes to the area’s moderate temperatures, which he hopes will continue. Strawberries are weather-sensitive and don’t like extremes.

Sunnyside Farms sells strawberries wholesale and at the farm’s four produce stands in Cumberland, Crewe, Farmville and Powhatan.

Customers can buy the berries in flats and quarts.

“The jelly makers are getting ready,” French said.

In Chesapeake, Jerry Lilley of Lilley Farms said barring severe weather or heavy downpours he expects a longer strawberry season than normal.

“They look good so far,” he said. “I think everybody in the Hampton Roads area is having the same sort of season we are—everybody I’ve talked to is early and has a good crop.”

The farm’s U-pick fields are already bustling with customers, and Lilley is preparing for the height of the season.

“The big month for us is May, around Mother’s Day weekend,” he said. “Everybody is excited about strawberries.”

To keep ripe strawberries fresh after picking, don’t leave them on top of each other in buckets. Instead, place the berries on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator with a cotton towel laid over top to help them last longer.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.