Organic Farming Success Story: Growing Organic Strawberries in California

By Laura Fraser, "Picking Season," May/June 2013

Organic farming pioneer Jim Cochran grows luscious organic strawberries, which are delicious in these healthy strawberry recipes.

When Jim Cochran was a child, he loved to visit his grandmother, who always gave him his favorite treat: a big bowl of little strawberries. The farm-fresh berries were ripe and sweet, each one bursting with flavor. “They made a big impression on a 5-year-old,” says Cochran, California’s first commercial organic strawberry grower and owner of Swanton Berry Farm, near Santa Cruz, California.

As Cochran—now 64—grew older, those succulent strawberries became harder to find, replaced everywhere with berries that fared well in commercial growing and shipping but had none of the flavor of the berries his grandmother served him. “It was the advent of the cardboard strawberry,” he says. To find the luscious strawberries he craved, he had to grow his own.

Today, if you visit the Swanton Berry Farm—a gorgeous 40 acres along a rugged stretch of the Santa Cruz coast—you can see why Cochran’s berries are different. Row upon row of little white-flowered plants sit widely spaced in rich dark earth, warmed by the California sun, cooled by the Pacific breeze. Instead of the big Seascape type most often found in stores, Cochran grows Chandlers, which are smaller and more intensely flavored. “People confuse sweetness with flavor,” Cochran says. “If you have a big, fat strawberry, it may be sweet, but it doesn’t taste all that much like a strawberry.” Aroma is a clue to how delicious a strawberry will be: a flavorful berry has a sweet, fruity, distinctly strawberry scent.

Next: Organic Strawberry Farming »

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