the Concord Magazine May/June 2000
The Ezine for and about Concord, Massachusetts

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Concord's Strawberry Heyday has Passed
By Anthony Dorman, Concord resident and a frequent contributor to this publication.

When you think of famed growers of great, fresh strawberries, what's the first place that comes to mind? California? Florida? Chile? A hundred years ago -- before highly perishable fruit so easily hailed from such foreign lands -- you might have considered Concord as your answer.

While not lastingly known as a great regional producer of high-quality fresh strawberries, they once represented vital early season income for local farmers along with other crops, most notably asparagus. Grown in our richest soil, strawberries were shipped via rail to Boston and New York. For the first time, the rails made it economically viable to make a cash crop out of this highly perishable fruit. Before that, selling fresh produce with a short shelf-life across a distance was not possible.

"Strawberries! ...The wonderful smell of the berries stored, pending shipment the next day, in the cellar where it was cool. The firm family injunction that the "best berries" went to market; the others were for family consumption! Strawberry shortcakes, pies, tarts, all of the wonderful recipes that our wonderful cook would produce to mark the season...." Rick Wheeler, Concord, MA

New and delicious varieties were bred and grown here in increasing numbers, especially during the 1870's. Captain John Brook Moore, an important Concord agriculturist, advertised for sale in 1873 fourteen varieties of the strawberry plant. Some of these were award-winning developments of his own, most notably the Davis and Belle variants. They cost anywhere from $5 to $12 per 1,000 plants.

Edward Jarvis wrote in his Traditions and Reminiscences of Concord, Massachusetts that the state agricultural census of 1874 reported 79,890 boxes (quarts) of strawberries were grown in Concord, being valued at $13,702. However, by 1878, these numbers had increased greatly, with as many as 10,800 boxes being sent to Boston by just one grower in a single day. By that time there were over 100 Concord strawberry growers with over 50 acres of land under cultivation with that crop. He compares this with the early part of the century when it was unusual to raise and sell this fruit even to local customers.

"As a kid back in the 1950's, I used to pick strawberries at a farm at Nine Acre Corner. The farmer was a tyrant who used to come through the fields shouting at us to 'pick faster, pick faster!" I learned my good work ethic in those fields, but he was a painful teacher." Nick R., Leominster, MA

Large-scale strawberry growing continued through the early 20th century. Locals still recall picking berries for a couple of cents a box during their childhoods, a job often left to the youngsters. Concord native, Richard Wheeler remembers his early years on his grandfather's Concord farmland included "the fun of picking strawberries with the crews that materialized out of nowhere at harvest time." He says, "It was the responsibility of the picker to 'dress' the top by placing the more attractive berries there; the smaller ones went on the bottom." Of course, there was the all-important "luxury of sampling the fresh fruit as you went along - provided Grandfather or the foreman weren't looking."

While Concord strawberries are still a great favorite locally, they are not now grown in such profusion, nor are they exported far and wide. Starting sometime in mid-June (depending on local weather conditions), these bright, luscious gems can be found at Concord's farmstands and at pick-your-own locations.

Did you know that local Native people celebrate a Strawberry Thanksgiving in June? To thank Great Spirit for the gift of this fruit means to share them with those you are at odds with, forgiving and forgetting.

Sources:
  • Rene Garrelick, Concord in the Days of Strawberries and Streetcars, The Town of Concord Historical Commission, 1985
  • Edward Jarvis, Traditions and Reminiscences of Concord, Massachusetts 1779-1787, Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1993.
  • Paula Jennings, Strawberry Thanksgiving, Modern Curriculum Press, 1992
  • John B. Moore, Catalogue of Small Fruits, pamphlet, Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library, 1873.
  • John H. Moore, Captain John Brooks Moore, typewritten manuscript, Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library, 195?.


Text: ©2000 The Concord, MA Homepage
Drawing of the strawberry plant: "Jenney's Seedling Strawberry," from New England Farmer, July 19, 1851, courtesy of the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library
Other strawberry art: Pats Web Graphics


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