March, 2014. Plant City, Florida. Strawberry Fields – Hopefully – Forever.

Posted on March 22, 2014

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543px-PerfectStrawberryThe strawberries grown in Plant City, Florida, are to die for. They are huge, sweet, pretty, and just…well, the epitome of strawberry-ness.

And whatever variety they may be – there are several grown here this time of year – if they aren’t identified as “Plant City” berries, I don’t want ‘em.

However, the luscious fruit has nothing to do with the town’s name, but rather was intended to honor a Yankee railroad magnate.

Henry B. Plant, originally from Connecticut and New York,  picked up pieces from the South’s devastation after the Civil War to put together the most profitable transportation network in Florida during the 1880’s and 1890’s.

During this period, Plant was busy building a railroad system along Florida’s west coast, just as Henry Flagler was doing along the east coast. The development of Tampa into a flourishing port city and tourist attraction was Plant’s stellar achievement, while Flagler was busy putting Palm Beach and Miami on the map.

However, along the way, as Plant’s railroad system penetrated southward, he ran through many small communities that were overjoyed at the opportunity to become connected with the rest of the world. City fathers always had high hopes that Plant would see the beauty and charm of their particular town, because if he was impressed by its potential for development, his company would immediately build a large hotel to attract tourists.

imagesIn 1884, Plant extended the South Florida Railroad into a small cotton-growing town with an unpronounceable Indian name. One year later, when the town was incorporated, it was renamed in honor of Mr. Plant. But, alas, by this time Plant was firmly focused on Tampa, and even the town’s new name was not enough to induce him to give Plant City a chance to become a tourist destination.

During the 1930’s, as cotton became a less profitable agricultural enterprise, some local farmers experimented with growing strawberries. They quickly found the soil and climate perfect for their cultivation, finally sowing the seeds of fame and fortune for Plant City.

The Winter Strawberry Capital of the World

wishToday, Plant City farms produce over three-quarters of the nation’s midwinter strawberries. In fact, ninety-five percent of the strawberries grown in Florida can be found in fields within a 50 mile radius of Plant City.

Florida’s strawberry industry employs between 9,000 and 10,000 workers. Like the state’s tomato industry, the overwhelming majority of them are Mexican, Guatemalan, and Haitian immigrants, a touchy fact that stirs controversy on both sides of the fence.

Be that as it may, though there is no grand tourist hotel in Plant City, those juicy red berries have indeed made the town famous.

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Posted in: Travel - Florida