It’s probably safe to say that most people enjoy the sweet taste of fresh, juicy strawberries picked straight from the ground. However, there’s something different about biting into a strawberry that’s been growing in your own (local) backyard and for one man in particular, it’s become a true labor of love.
Erik Hernandez, the Boone Hall Farms Foreman, has been caring for the farm’s crops for 16 years now- and loves every moment of it. “We’re out here 11-12 hours a day, 6 days a week and it’s a physically demanding job, but the payoff happens as soon as we see the kids run to go pick their first berries of the season.”
Hernandez, who says he considers Boone Hall owner Willie McRae to be his mentor, leads a team of 8 that takes to the 12 acres of strawberries starting in October of each year. Together they plant the 130,000 plants by hand over the course of 3-4 days and tend to them throughout their various stages of development until the red berries are ready to be picked.
With the unusually cold winter- including an unprecedented snow storm- Hernandez was especially watchful over the crops this season. “I’m not in charge of the crops, they are in charge of me. If it’s below freezing or a windy night, I’ll come out here at 2-3 am to make sure all of the beds are properly covered- otherwise the frost might kill them.”
Thankfully, the snow did not kill the plants this season, and in fact, combined with the protective plastic covering acted as an insulator for the strawberries instead. One interesting result did arise from the unexpected weather, however; with the crops covered for protection- and the weather much too cold for the honey bees to brave- fewer attempts at pollination were made than in previous years. Hernandez says not to worry, however, Charleston locals will still get the sweet and delicious strawberries they look forward to each year- and with their cover crop of buckwheat, they made sure the honey bees had everything they needed, too!
You won’t have to look too far for Boone Hall’s berries- of the Camino Real variety- around town either. With distribution at Harris Teeter, several local restaurants, their Boone Hall Farms Market and roadside produce stand, locals have plenty of opportunities to enjoy.
Boone Hall Farms is more than just strawberries, or the King of the Crops as they call it, however- it’s a place to see the community come together each new season to experience, taste and enjoy more than 40 different types of produce on 120 total acres of land.
“For all of us here on the farm it’s more than just selling or making a living- we enjoy it most when we see everyone else enjoying it, too,” says Hernandez. For him, this means seeing the families loading up their baskets with fresh U-Pick strawberries like his own son, 11-month-old Leo, will for the first time this season. “He’ll definitely be out here with us to enjoy the berries come May and June, and I’m excited to see him experience it- that will truly be the reward for all of our hard work.”
Pick your own strawberries at this year’s Lowcountry Strawberry Festival, April 19-22. Tickets and information are available at http://www.boonehallplantation.com/special-events/lowcountry-strawberry-festival/.
By Krysta Chapman