There has been one other new marketing opportunity: If he has any berries left at the end of the day, he freezes them and sends them to D'Vine Foods processing plant of Elizabethtown, N.C. D’Vine processes and packages the berries on a contract basis into preserves or other products for sale in the off-season.

“We don’t make a whole lot of profit on these products, but we get something else to sell into the fall,” said Ball. “These products won’t be big moneymakers, but they keep people coming to our table, and they might buy something else while they are there.”

Because Easter came relatively late this year, many local school systems in North Carolina held their spring break about the time strawberries were ready to harvest, said strawberry grower Myron Smith of Benson, N.C.

“That was great benefit to us,” he said. “We had a lot of customers at our U-pick that week.”

The early crop was excellent, and with harvest well under way by mid April, Smith thought it might hold up to the end if his fields don’t get too much precipitation. “Strawberries don’t like a lot of rain,” he said.

Smith has row covers for 2.25 of his 3.5 acres. Their basic purpose is for frost protection, but he derived another benefit this year.

“I saw a real difference in the strawberries that had been covered,” Smith said. “They had a lot more crown development and root growth, and we could pick a little earlier as a result. The covered berries were seven or 10 days ahead of the ones we didn’t cover.

This was just the second year that Smith had row covers.

“We put the cover on around Christmas so the plants wouldn’t go completely dormant,” he said. “The row cover forces them to be early, which gives us a marketing advantage.”

If necessary, he uses overhead irrigation for frost protection.

Like Ball, Smith has a roadside stand at his farm and sells at some one-day-a-week markets in the area. He also has a CSA program and a garden center and offers agritourism activities, along with pick-your-own berries.

As far as Ball is concerned, any kind of farmers market is a good way to market fruits and vegetables. “You are selling straight to the consumer with no middle man. The consumer gets a fresh product and frequently a little better price.”

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