When I first moved to Sacramento almost ten years ago one of my favorite sights was the adorable strawberry stands that seemed to be around every turn. The rustic white paint. Red strawberries adorning the sides of the old fashioned stands. It was one of my favorite parts of this time of year.
After further investigation I found that there is a strawberry stand in almost every part of Sacramento within a ten-mile drive. There are over 90 stands total. The stands are family owned and set up so that locals can purchase their strawberries right from the farmer.
The idea of the strawberry stand is pretty much my urban farming philosophy all bundled up in a cute package. Having a small urban farm that’s only purpose is to provide just picked produce for their neighborhood. The stands are set up alongside the land where the strawberries are farmed. There are picked at the peak of ripeness and then sold right there by stand owners and family. Owners get to know their neighbors and farmers and residents work and live together in perfect harmony.
I wanted to know more about these small-scale local strawberry farmers so I researched further. I found out that about five years ago UC Berkeley and UC Davis Cooperative Extension and a grant from the USDA National Research Initiative set out to tell the story of the strawberry farmers in Sacramento.
Most of the 95 strawberry farm stands in and around the Sacramento region are owned and operated by Mien and Hmong refugees from Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia that neighbors Vietnam.
When the U.S. left Southeast Asia in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Hmong and Mien fled their homeland to avoid persecution. Over 120,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S. The population today has expanded to an estimated 300,000, with nearly 35,000 residing in the Sacramento area alone. Most of the refugees were farmers in Laos. In an effort to rebuild their lives, many turned to farming in the U.S. Most growers lease small plots of land and grow several varieties of strawberries.
The scientists working on the grant identified the local growers and expanded their businesses. They found that the average strawberry stand only makes about $15,000 a year in a perfect growing year. They tried to increase the stand’s revenue by forging relationships with local school districts, restaurants and low-income community grocery stores. This not only provided additional revenue streams for farmers, it provided farm-to-fork options for children to learn that their food could come from their own communities. The local fruit was offered to students in five regional school districts: Sacramento City Unified, Yuba City Unified, Buckeye Unified and Rescue Unified in El Dorado County and Roseville City Unified.
I for one am so happy to have these hard-working strawberry farmers as part of our communities. Knowing more about their challenging history and work ethic makes me even more proud to see these stands in our neighborhood. Want to know where you can buy strawberries near you? A Google Map was created to find strawberry stands throughout the Sacramento region and surrounding areas. I found the stand in our neighborhood. Can you find yours?
Get to know your local strawberry stand owners. Purchase ripe strawberries the way they are intended to be enjoyed. Talk to the families that run these stands and find out more about them. If each of us can show our children what a valuable service these families provide, we are ensuring the successful future of urban farming in our communities. Without our support, urban farmers can’t survive.
We chatted with the stand owner on Grant Line Rd. in Elk Grove today and learned about his business and more about the variety of Chandler strawberries that he uses. Local farmers can teach us all something that we didn’t know about the food we eat.
Tell us the story of your neighborhood strawberry stand. We would love to hear it!
The stands featured in this post are the stands on Grant Line Rd. in Elk Grove and the stand on Green Valley in El Dorado Hills. The stands are opening around our area now and should all be fully open within the next month. The Google map has phone numbers for most stands if you want to make sure your local stand is open.