NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — It’s pick-your-own-strawberries season in New Jersey.
CBS2’s Meg Baker went to a strawberry field on the campus of Rutgers University to do exactly that with the help of some new friends.
Students have been working to create varieties of the fruit that will grow best in New Jersey’s climate and soil while enhancing the flavor genes.
“So we are taking the best characteristics from one strawberry and trying to incorporate it into another one,” professor Bill Hlubik said.
The Rutgers scarlet strawberry, named after the school’s mascot, is one of the most flavorful varieties to date thanks to an abundance of sunny days this spring. It received a patent in 2017 and is now grown across the country because of its popular flavor and resistance to disease.
It’s even used to brew a strawberry beer made in Mount Holly.
“The berries taste so sweet. I bring them to friends and now people are, like, looking for me. They’re like, ‘I need more,'” student Ameen Lotfi said.
“We provide research for small farmers in area, so we’re growing specific strawberry varieties to help small farmers get more production, tastier berries and a bigger overall yield,” student Patrick Pepe said.
There are 167 strawberry farmers in New Jersey. They produce 4 million pounds of berries worth more than $12 million statewide, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Pick-your-own events help bring foot traffic onto their properties, where they sell the fruit direct to consumers.
Tim VonThun’s family started their Monmouth Junction farm in 1913. He says strawberries start the summer produce season and mean big business.
“As soon as we put pick-your-own-strawberry banners out, people start rolling in,” he said. “It really increases foot traffic here on the farm. People start buying berries and stop in greenhouse or farmers market and purchase other products at the farm.”
There are dozens of farms in New Jersey that offer a fun family day of hay rides and picking berries.
Strawberry season started in mid-May and goes through the end of June.