“I Heart CA Strawberries” Blogger Field Trip with the California Strawberry Commission

I LOVE strawberries. I cannot get enough of them! After battling life-long candida and following the Body Ecology diet (where strawberries are one of those life saving transition foods) and living an alkaline lifestyle, strawberries are a staple in our house because of their low sugar content. Even through strawberries taste decadent, sweet, and delicious, 1 cup of strawberries contains just 50 calories and 8 grams of sugar making them a dynamite food for those of us on low sugar plans for candida, cancer, or diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) identified berries, including strawberries, as one of the top 10 superfoods. They are just wonderful for everybody (unless you are allergic of course).

Not only are strawberries low in calories, sugar, and sodium, they are absolutely loaded with nutrients like Vitamin C, folate, postassium, magnesium, dietary fibre, and antioxidants. Strawberries have been shown in many studies to help control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, maintain heart health, reduce the risk for strokes, and boost memory, just to name a few. You can also make INCREDIBLE recipes with them. Don't forget to check out my creamy lemon strawberry smoothie I created for Driscoll's. 

So, when the California Strawberry Commission invited me to attend their annual, "I Heart CA Strawberries" Blogger Field Trip I was thrilled. It was a glorious day. A lovely group of California bloggers and their families enjoyed a fun-filled day at Bill Reiman's beautiful strawberry ranch in Oxnard, CA. I got to hang out with my friends, Rachael from La Fuji Mama, Jackie from The Beeroness, Mary from California Greek Girl, Dorothy from Shockingly Delicious, and I met some new friends like Romy from Romy Raves, Shelby from OC Mom Blog, and Laura from Family Spice.

Bill (a 5th generation Ventura County farmer) has served on the board for the Ventura County Agricultural Association, the Processing Strawberry Advisory Board, and Chairman of the Board for the California Strawberry Commission (CSC). He was recently appointed Chairman of the CSC Research Committee. We were extremely fortunate to have him share his vast knowledge of berry farming as he gave us a tour of his farm. After my trip to Driscoll's headquarters in Watsonville a couple of weeks ago (they work closely with the CA Strawberry Commission) I feel like I have had a crash course in berry growing! 

Here's some of the things I learned from Bill, which only makes me want to support the California strawberry industry even more than I already do! LOL!

California is the nation's leading producer of strawberries. The rich soil, ocean exposure, and moderate temperatures create the perfect conditions for a 12 month growing season, which means we can enjoy delicious strawberries all year round! About four hundred family farmers (many of them multi-generational) grow strawberries on 40,000 acres of land from Orange County to Monterey Bay, growing about 88 percent of American strawberries. 

What I love about California strawberry farmers is that they are among the most progressive and environmentally conscious in the country. Millions of dollars has been spent on research into sustainable farming practices to reduce pesticides and the environmental impact of harsh chemicals. California strawberry farming is also great for the local economy. Although strawberry farmers use less than one percent of California’s cropland, they create nearly 10 percent of all California’s farm-related jobs! 

Bill's farm produces fresh berries and processing fruit (berries for freezing and food production like juices) depending on the season. At the moment they are producing strawberries for freezing as they are super sweet and juicy, so don't travel very well fresh. There is a popular misconception that frozen berries are inferior. That is not always the case. They can be incredibly flavourful, and they are washed and frozen within hours of picking, so they retain a lot of nutrients as well. Did you know that America produces about 450 million pounds of frozen berries a year, and about 60% of those come from the Oxnard area? Yes! That is a LOT of picking! Bill gave me a quick lesson in picking strawberries for freezing. You ideally want to pick the berry and remove the calyx (the green top bit) in one motion to be the most efficient. Bill is an expert. I had a bit more trouble getting it juuuuust right :)

There are also some other misconceptions about strawberries. I get a lot of emails about "The Dirty Dozen" and GMO's. Rest assured, there are no genetically modified strawberries commercially grown and shipped. Varieties of strawberries are developed using traditional breeding methods that involve selecting two parents and crossing them using their flowers. Although I am a huge fan of the Environmental Working Group, a panel of experts reviewed the information used to create their dirty dozen list, and found that the research used to include strawberries was a little misleading. You can read more about the safety of fruits and vegetables here. Having said that, I always recommend consuming organic produce wherever possible, and organic strawberries are widely available. And we enjoyed PLENTY of strawberries on the farm! 

We feasted on a delectable strawberry inspired brunch and early dinner created by Chef Tim Kilycoyne, executive chef and owner of the famed farm-to-table SideCar restaurant in Ventura. His scrumptious dinner menu consisted of bruschetta with fava bean ricotta, house made strawberry mustard and arugula, enchiladas with Swiss chard, roasted strawberry mole and queso fresco served with black bean and quinoa salad, chocolate genoise with strawberry mousse, ganache and white chocolate dipped strawberries. YUMMO. But my favourite treat of the whole day was the strawberry basil meyer lemonade. LOVE basil lemonade.

I had such a wonderful time.

Special thanks to the adorable Jodi Reinman, the public relations and social media manager, Jennifer, Pam, and the rest of the team and PR gals that work with the California Strawberry Commission for co-ordinating this fabulous event.

*This is a sponsored post for the California Strawberry Commission.
**I don't engage in sponsored posts very often unless it is for a very worthy cause, and I wanted to spread the word about the excellence in CA strawberry farming, and it's benefits to the local economy. I also just LOVE strawberries and feel like they are so beneficial to health. They are also just FUN and delicious. 

Photos courtesy of California Strawberry Commission
Learn more about the California Strawberry Commission
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It was great meeting you, too, Tess! We had a blast not only on the farm tour, but while eating all those wonderful strawberries.

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Yes! It was a fabulous day. I look forward to seeing you at future events :)

Love your website.  I also suffer from candida and have had throat cancer in ‘99.  I just started consuming green smoothies and I read somewhere that for greens to be utilized in our bodies, we need to incorporate Vitamin C.  I think strawberries are pretty high in Vitamin C, so I always add some to those smoothies.  I have a question, what are sustainable farm practices and what do California Strawberry farmers do for the migrant or strawberry worker?  I keep thinking about the berry farm in Oregon whose berries were tainted, and the stories I heard it was coming from a worker who did not use good hygenic practices.  I just wonder, did the Oregon farm even offer the workers the facilities, so they could practice good hygiene?

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Hey Mary, thankyou for your lovely comments, and question about California strawberry working conditions. I forwarded your question onto the CA Strawberry Commission and this is what Carolyn O’Donnell has to say:

“California strawberry growers follow some of the strictest standards and regulations in the world, all designed to protect workers, the land, the community and the crop.  They were early pioneers in adopting drip irrigation (to conserve water) and integrated pest management: techniques that work with nature to reduce the use of pesticides.  Conventional strawberry farmers use organic-approved techniques and materials, making them somewhat “unconventional.”

“California strawberry farmers also care deeply about their workers; they know that they cannot harvest their fields without healthy and well-trained workers.  Since strawberries are hand-harvested and field packed, we know that clean hands is a key part of food safety to prevent contamination.  The California Strawberry Commission has developed a training program and materials specifically designed to train crew supervisors, and to help them train their crews.  In addition, California state law has very specific regulations regarding toilet and hand washing facilities, as well as drinking water and shade requirements, for workers.”

“I believe that the contaminated berries referred to in this question are related to the E. coli outbreak in Oregon in 2011 which was the result of deer feces and not worker hygiene.”

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