How much should a pound of strawberries cost?

Adam Calder, Wheatsfield Produce Manager

How much should a pound of strawberries cost? Seems like a relatively straight-forward, simple enough question. As it is with most things in life, the question shines a light on an incredibly complicated answer.

Strawberries have been on my mind since I recently made a trip out to the Berry Patch to get my hands on some first of the season local strawberries. This was a you-pick adventure, so I showed up prepared for my labor with a big sun hat, long sleeves/pants and sun glasses.

At first, the day seemed idyllic. The Berry Patch is full of row after row of lush trees, and field upon fields of strawberries! There is a narrow dirt road that meanders its way through and around the farm, with hand-painted signs and arrows directing you along the way.

When I arrived to the strawberry field, a helpful farm hand guided me toward a field between wind break rows of tall ornamental grass and handed me my berry harvesting tray. In that field were about a dozen people spread out over several hundred feet, stooped down picking berries.

As I eagerly began snatching those shiny little ruby gems from their nest of leaves, I took note of the bright sunshine and the gentle breeze. I smiled when I heard a mother with a group of small children nearby, as the wail of whining from those children was constant and insistent: “Why didn’t we bring hats? It’s hot out!  I’m thirsty! Where are my sunglasses? I’m tired! My legs hurt!”

In short order, I had a great deal of sympathy for those children. After about forty five minutes of crouching, squatting, shuffling, standing, sweating, huffing and puffing while picking berries, the reality of the work I was doing had set in and I couldn’t stand it anymore! I couldn’t even imagine how farm hands who live in California and pick strawberries for ten, twelve, fourteen hours or more do it without collapsing in an exhausted heap at the end of the day.

After all that effort, my feet, back, shoulders, neck, legs and arms were all quite sore. I also had ten pounds of strawberries I had to carry back from the field. I was covered in sweat, and soil from the field clung to that sweat. My fingers were sticky and also covered in dirt.

When I paid for my berries, the total was around $50. At first, I nearly balked at such a “high” price for berries I picked myself. I thought how I often have one pound packages of organic strawberries on sale at Wheatsfield for under $5, and someone else even picked those berries for me! How could the Berry Patch justify such a high price?

As I paid for the fruit, I chatted with the owner of the Berry Patch, Judy, and her son Mike. We reminisced about all the years we’ve done business together. We mused about the quality and character of Iowa strawberries, and the best way to use them. We smiled, laughed and genuinely appreciated the fine spring day, the company we shared and the bounty of the season.

How do you put a price on such an experience? At Wheatfield, we have a set of protocols and formulas we use to decide how much we sell food for. We factor in the cost we pay for the food, the wages we pay staff, the rent and utilities for our building, the marketing and administrative costs of communicating to our members and many other variables. On a family farm, the logistics are different but nonetheless complicated and expensive.

As I walked back to the car with my huge pile of fresh fruit, I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as I gazed down on it. Visions of jam and pies were filling my head, and I couldn’t wait to get home and get started on processing this bounty. I popped one of the berries into my mouth, and as the complex dance of sweet and tart played out across my taste buds with a burst of berry flavor, I couldn’t help but think “wow…I don’t think I paid enough for these berries!”