Monday, October 9, 2017

A Berry Sweet Life

By Cynthia T. Toney

Strawberry farming. 

It gets into your blood, as it did me, a city child who visited her paternal grandparents’ strawberry farm during springs and summers of the 1960s. I loved nature and the miracle of life growing in its many forms. I felt closer to God among newborn chicks and young strawberry plants struggling against a late frost.

That Louisiana farm and others like it in the area inspired the physical setting for my first historical novel, The Other Side of Freedom. I chose a period of American history, the 1920s, because of my interest in Italian immigration and organized crime, as well as other significant changes and events in the U.S., many of which Americans more often associate with big cities.

So what was Louisiana strawberry farming like in the 1920s?

Before tractors became commonplace, small family farms of the decade used mule-drawn plows and produced surprisingly large crops of strawberries that way. Farmers transported their berries by car, pickup truck, and horse-drawn wagons to collection points in the small towns nearby.

Word of delicious strawberries from Louisiana rivaling those produced in California made its way to northern cities like Chicago. The Illinois Central Railroad routed them there, and strawberry towns began to flourish.  A box manufacturing company in Independence made specialty crates for the growing industry.

The Louisiana Strawberry Cooperative Association began to use auctions for selling strawberry crops to get farmers the best prices possible. Auction houses sprang up in towns such as Ponchatoula and Hammond. Beautiful and now collectible labels for strawberry crates, flats, and pints were designed and printed for prominent strawberry producers.

Strawberry pickers and packers came from families’ own children, local day laborers, laborers from out of state, and descendants of former slaves from large plantations.

The larger story of strawberry farming in Louisiana is intertwined with the history of the post-Civil War South, Italian and other immigration, developments in commercial art and architecture, and new trends in business practices and shipping. Other states have their own stories as well.

Strawberry farming wasn’t an easy life for anyone, especially in the early days. But by the time I experienced my family’s farm in the 1960s, it was sweet, from a child's perspective. The family farm during strawberry season remains one of the sweetest memories I have.

When my father graduated from high school, my grandfather told him that he could attend college or stay and help work the farm. My father chose to go to college, but guess what he majored in.

Horticulture.

About the Author

Award-winning author Cynthia T. Toney might be new to penning historical fiction, but she isn't new to writing. Her young adult novels, 8 Notes to a Nobody, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, and 6 Dates to Disaster continue to thrive awaiting their final book in the Bird Face Series. Learn more about Cynthia at her author page on the Write Integrity Press site or at CynthiaTToney.com.