What is your favorite fruit? Strawberries are the fifth-most preferred fruit in the United States, so chances are you are a strawberry lover. High in vitamin C, antioxidants, folate and potassium, they have been prized for their nutritional value as well as delicious taste.
Strawberries are native to North America and American strawberry plants were introduced in Europe in 1534 because the varieties were superior to the ones found in western Europe. The word strawberry is an English term, referring perhaps to the use of straw in production to protect the berries, or sometimes call strewberries because the runners are “strewn about” the plant. In French, Italian or Spanish they are referred to as Fraise (fragrant berry). The first improved berries were developed in the 18th century and strawberry breeding continues to provide improved varieties today.
North Carolina is third in value of strawberry production, far behind the strawberry-shipping states of California and Florida. Most strawberries in North Carolina are sold fresh, although there has been an increase in processed strawberries in recent years as frozen berries are entering the market through companies like Seal the Seasons, a partner of the Sandhills AGInnovation Center that markets local frozen fruits and vegetables. There are approximately 1,600 acres of strawberry production in North Carolina producing a $29.4 million income (2012 USDA).
In Ellerbe, there are three strawberry farms of substantial size: Wilson’s Farm, The Berry Patch and Triple L Farm. The soil and weather conditions in the Sandhills are generally good for strawberry production, and according to Bryan Cohn of Seal the Seasons, Richmond County could be considered a hub for large-scale strawberry production if a few more acres were planted here.
The Ellerbe Downtown Merchants Association formed in 2016 and had been discussing a spring festival to focus on the downtown area. The idea for the Ellerbe Strawberry Festival was born, as a nod to our strawberry history and future, and a way to bring people to Ellerbe to celebrate this popular fruit. On Saturday, May 12, downtown Ellerbe will become Strawberry Central with Page Street lined with vendors offering goods, crafts and delicious foods — including strawberries. Entertainment is planned on a stage behind Town Hall with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. and continuing with local bands and entertainers until dark. A recipe contest will take place in the fire station next to Town Hall, where cooks will bring their best strawberry dishes for judging in categories of youth, adult sweet and adult savory. There may even be a strawberry pie-eating contest!
The proceeds of the festival will help the Ellerbe Downtown Merchants Association continue with projects of beautifying the downtown area, and provide it the ability to incorporate and seek grant funds for Ellerbe. So far, sponsors of the festival include: Ellerbe Springs Inn, River Street, Sugg Logging, Webb Farm and the Town of Ellerbe.
Approximately 25 vendor applications have been received to date and the group is seeking additional craft and food vendors as well as sponsors for this free event. To receive a sponsor/vendor form, a recipe contest form or to volunteer to help with this Inaugural Ellerbe Strawberry Festival please contact me at 910-997-8255.
Mark your calendar for all of the great spring festivals in the north end of the county, such as the Norman Chickin” Pickin on April 28, Ellerbe May Fest on May 5 and the Ellerbe Strawberry Festival on May 12! Don’t forget the Lion’s Club Lawnmower Races, visiting the Berry Patch, the Rankin Museum and more while you are there!
Susan Kelly is director of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension office in Rockingham.