Every year in November is one of my favorite farm events: The Southeast Strawberry Growers Expo, hosted by the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association. The McNitt brothers from McNitt Growers, who I source my strawberry plugs from, suggested that I go the first year I worked with them. This was the first time I did anything farming related, and I am sure they could tell I had no clue. The Expo is three day long and falls sometime between the 4th and 10th of November. The first day of the Expo is a farm tour day. We all load up on a bus and visit three or four farms in the area. It ends with dinner either at a farm that does farm to table, or a local well known restaurant. The second day starts with a grower spotlight, two break out sessions, lunch, and ends with two more break out sessions. At lunch we review the minutes from the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association (NCSGA) meetings, vote in new board members, and award three scholarships to students focusing in ag education, and research with an emphasis on North Carolina. Everyone is on their own for dinner, typically we take the McNitt brothers out as a thank you for all their help. The third day is only a half day, although most people hang around and sight see before leaving.
The first year I went (2016) I tried to absorb as much information as I could. It was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant*. I am positive I looked stunned the whole time. Everyone I met was nice, but I have no doubts that they thought I would not be back. Looking back I can’t blame them. Not only did I start with 55,000 strawberry, this is enough strawberries for 5 acres, but I also asked the most basic questions. The kind of questions you already know the answer to if you have farmed anything in your life.
The second year went better. I still felt like I was drowning in the information I needed to learn. However every now and then I would hear a sentence or a phrase I had heard last year (or had read desperately in that time) and actually knew what it meant. Having made it back a second year, people started to learn my name. Although this quickly became a mote point when they realized I was from Texas. The first and so far only person to come from Texas, at which point they just started calling me ‘Texas’. They were even friendlier and I walked away with a notebook full of things to research as well as a couple numbers to call if I had any questions.+
This year, my third year going, was even better. I was asked to be the speaker for one of the Grower Spotlight^, which highlights farms that are too far away to visit. But more importantly I was able to really enjoy the community of farms that shows up at the Expo. I still am awash in information, but instead of drowning I am treading water like mad and able to keep my head above water. I have never meet a nicer group of people. I truly mean that. During the first day on the tour we eat box lunches on the bus, with a bottle of water, a can of coke or diet coke. I jokingly asked one of the guys (I found out later he is on the board for the association, eep) handing out lunches, “Where the Dr. Pepper‡ is?” He kind of blinked at me and asked if I like Dr. Pepper, I said “Yes, but it’s a Texas thing, so I’m kidding. I don’t need one, and thank you for the lunch.” The next day at lunch he comes up to me with a six pack of Dr. Pepper. He had gone out on his own time and found me something to “Help me feel welcome.”‡‡ Seriously the warmest, most welcoming, kind hearted people. After I gave my presentation about my farm, several people came up, complimented me (one lady even said I was an inspiration!), and even offered solutions to one or more of the problems I mentioned having! I cannot say enough nice things about these people. I cannot wait to see all of them next year, catch up on how our years have been. Hopefully showing myself as wonderful as they are to the wide-eyed newcomers like I was only two years ago!
I promises this time my next post WILL be about growing strawberries! Thank you for your patience and support!
* Turned on full blast, with a straw.
+ I am pretty sure they regretted this since I called several times a month for the next 9 months.
^This is not because I know what I am doing. Rather it is because I own a farm and am willing to get up in front of people and talk.
‡ I am good Texan girl.
‡‡ Here is the picture I took of my six pack. Yes I have saved an unopened can.