Published on 04/23/01

Learning Life Skills in the Berry Patch

Photo: Faith Peppers

For ripe, sweet strawberries in Georgia, just look on the World Wide Web or ask at your county Extension office for the strawberry farm nearest to you.
Bucking a trend that has hundreds of acres of Georgia farmland moving from cultivation to subdivisions each day, Abe Banks took part of his 21 acres that was zoned for housing and turned it into a pick-your-own strawberry farm.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that over the past five years, Georgia lost about 500 acres a day of farmland to home and business development. Banks worked with his Houston County neighbors to change land-use agreements so he and his family could grow strawberries. Those neighbors are now some of their best customers.

And the Bankses should have plenty of customers this year.

Strawberry Crop Good

Photo: Faith Peppers

Customers can buy ready-picked berries at Georgia strawberry farms but often opt for lower prices by picking their own.
"The crop is looking good," said Gerard Krewer, a University of Georgia Extension horticulturist. "The season is just starting in north Georgia, and it's been under way in south Georgia for several weeks."

Georgia's climate usually makes for a long season for good berries. "If it stays cool, they can last in north Georgia until July 4," Krewer said. "In south Georgia, it usually winds down in early to mid-June. This is the peak season, so now is the time to go pick."

Berry pickers will see attactive prices for the vine-ripened fruit. Prices average $6 to 7 per gallon across the state.

"Strawberries are an expensive crop to grow," Krewer said. "But growers can get a pretty good return on their investment." Strawberries cost about $5,000 per acre to plant, but can gross over $15,000 per acre if nature cooperates. Georgia's 50 growers usually bring in about $3 million per year.

More Than Making Money

Photo: Joe Courson

Life's lessons are fun and sweet in the strawberry-patch "school."
But for Abe Banks, growing strawberries is about more than making money. Banks has been tempted to sell the land. Developers could fit about 20 houses where he has his 40 rows of strawberries. But he won't sell. The 2-acre field reminds him of the Fayetteville, Ga., farm where he grew up.

"All the lessons you learn on a farm are the type of things you've got to have to get ahead in life," he said.

Banks teaches basic life skills to his 5-year-old daughter Sara, like learning to follow directions while looking for ripe strawberries to pick. "Red, head to toe?" she asked. "Show me," he coached. "Red, head to toe. Let's find another one."

Unique Berry Farm

Banks bought 12 acres of the land at an auction. Later he added 9.5 acres more. Now surrounded almost entirely by houses, he has an unlikely spot for 37,500 strawberry plants to call home.

"The Bankses' farm is really unique," Krewer said. "It's a type of reverse urbanization."

Like many of today's Georgia farmers, the Bankses have other jobs, too. He is an engineering manager at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. His wife Janet is an operating-room nurse at a Macon hospital.

To find the strawberry farm nearest you, check the Web site at or contact your county Extension Service office.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.