Can You Identify Which Strawberries are Local?

July 24, 2015

At Food52, we spend a lot of time thinking about where we source our groceries for photoshoots, and you'll often find our editors venturing to the farmers market to buy in-season produce.

But does it really make a difference? Is it worth the extra time and money?

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For a recent cookbook shoot, we needed strawberries, and a real-life example emerged. Here, you see standard issue supermarket strawberries from California on the left and local strawberries from the New York area on the right. You'll notice that the local berries are smaller and redder, but it's not just looks alone: They're also sweeter and more flavorful.

The verdict? Worth it.

What produce will you only buy from the farmers market? And what tastes just as good when it comes from the store?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nina
  • Emily Smith
    Emily Smith
  • robin
  • 702551
  • MRubenzahl
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Nina August 1, 2015
I wasn't aware that the point of buying local produce was just to have better-tasting food - I thought it was about environmental concerns, avoiding the carbon cost of cross-country or even international refrigerated shipping...
Emily S. July 31, 2015
Last time we went strawberry picking we decided to dry half of them (and the leftover ones we had in the fridge from the store). It was so surprising to see the difference when we cut them open! Needless to say, we wish we could go strawberry picking all year round (maybe halfway so I can justify these purchases: )
robin July 25, 2015
Same with corn...can only be really fresh from a farmers market.
702551 July 24, 2015
It should be pointed out that there are about fifty commercial cultivars of strawberries, each of which have different characteristics (size, color, flavor, texture, crop yield, growing season, pest resistance, etc.).

Without a doubt, the stuff you find in the supermarket will be bred for mass market commercial viability. This is why supermarket tomatoes are insipid.

The produce at your local farmers market is often from tastier cultivars that do not travel long distances well. This is one of the primary benefits of shopping at a farmers market.
MRubenzahl July 24, 2015
Yes, good point. Sad but true.
702551 July 24, 2015
Another issue for mass market consumption is year-around growing (in hothouses). Many cultivars are highly seasonal and thus aren't a good candidate for a large-scale farmer like Driscoll's who is expected to provide continuous availability to the market, not just seasonal crops.

It's just a fact of life. Everything is a compromise. As consumers, we don't see the stuff that the farmers throw out, the diseased plants, damaged goods, etc.

Here in California, we are fortunate to have a mild climate with a wide range of microclimates, so we get to enjoy many high-quality farmers market items for much longer intervals than the rest of the world. Still, I don't eat corn or strawberries in December, nor do I eat collard greens in the summer.

There is a season for things, well, at least if you want it to taste good.
Smaug July 25, 2015
The insipidity of supermarket tomatoes has more to do with being picked dead green, though the varieties are certainly a factor. Many fruits- tomatoes and strawberries high among them- are unable to withstand the handling it takes to get them to market if picked ripe, and will never ripen properly once picked. Industrialization has not been kind to food.
MRubenzahl July 24, 2015
It is dangerous to generalize. One of the main reasons I go to Farmer's Markets is because of the ability to taste the wares. The only way to know that strawberry is great is to taste one. Sometimes the big beauties are flavorless; sometimes they explode with floral berriness.
ChefJune July 24, 2015
Sarah, I didn't need to read your wonderful article to know which was which! Those smaller, redder strawberries -- well they're also so aromatic I can smell them a block away from the stands that sell them this time of year. And I wait for them. The berries from California are great in California, where they can be picked riper. But the ones that get sent to us, even when they're organically grown, have to be picked green so they can makeit cross-country, and for me they never make the grade.
Kris July 24, 2015
I have been going to a farmers market ( in Northern California) for 2-3 months now. I did not like the smaller redder berries they were selling. I tried it 3-4 times from different sellers. They were harder and not ripe enough and not really sweet. I did find other sellers in the farmers market with larger excellent strawberries.
702551 July 24, 2015
The berries on the left are bred for mass market commercial distribution: the huge size appeals to consumers and they survive trans-state shipping.

If you go to a farmers market in California, you'll find the berries on the right which are bred for flavor (like Albions, Seascapes) and can be picked riper since they are only traveling locally and being sold immediately.

If you regularly buy at farmers market, the stuff at the grocery store looks grotesquely huge, too perfect and flavorless -- the produce version of the Stepford wives.
Smaug July 24, 2015
We have good berries in California too. These white centered berries, usually huge, are now available year round for often ridiculously low prices; they'd be a great asset if they had any flavor.