Pick-your-own strawberry farmers working to adjust under COVID-19 guidelines, stay-at-home order

SANFORD, N.C. (WTVD) -- Strawberry picking season for central North Carolina starts in mid-April through the first week of June, a time where local growers rely heavily on 'pick-your-own' operations. Now, farmers are working to adapt.

"We've been growing strawberries since 2000, so you pick has been 85 percent of our business so I'm really relying on our customer base," said Tina Gross, owner of Gross Farms in Lee County.

COVID-19 coupled with stay-at-home orders has truly crippled the market by knocking down the amount of consumers farms will see.

"We will be offering pre-order sales and I will be offering online sales once our strawberry plants are producing enough strawberries," said Gross.

Like many industries, agriculture is having to adapt. Right now, Gross is suspending their "you pick" operations in order to plan ways to meet the state's and CDC guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.

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"The key to it all is handwash stations. We're not going to be able to get a lot of hand wash stations here. They're just not available," Gross explained.

Until all of that gets sorts out.

"We're winging it and we'll make it work," said Gross.

Strawberry growers began picking in mid-March in Eastern North Carolina. In Western North Carolina, strawberry lovers can find local berries from late April through the first week of July.

North Carolina is the third-largest strawberry producer in the nation. In 2018, the state grew 1,100 acres of strawberries generating $21.3 million in farm income.
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