When it comes to strawberries, I want it all. I want sweet, juicy flavor with red flesh to the middle of the berry. I want to clearly see every strawberry in the package before I decide to purchase. I want freshness that will last for days. I want my berry grower to understand what real sustainability means, not only with availability of product, but also with preserving water, growing more fruit per acre of land, eliminating the need for pesticides, and creating a great work environment.
David Akahoshi and Ibrahim Elnashar have all this and more with their hydroponically grown berries. David’s father was in the produce business and saw how hard it was on the farmers. He knew there had to be a better way, so they started Masterplan Berries to show just that. I had the privilege of seeing this state-of-the-art facility in Santa Maria, California, where there’s row after row of perfect strawberries. Some just blooming while others were bountiful and red throughout.
GROWING A BETTER BERRY
Berries in Ohio have always been a challenge as they need cool nights and warm, sunny days—a rare formula here limiting our local season to a few weeks. Santa Maria has the perfect temperatures.
However, when it’s too cold at night, David simply raises the temperature of the water being fed to his plants. The root system is grown in shaved coconut husk, known to be disease resistant and water retentive. With year-round hydroponic growing methods, the berries are protected from pest, wind, disease, drought, flash flooding, and freezing temps, all while using 75% less water in a state that’s water challenged. The berries are field packed in a single layer to protect them from bruising, with each berry seen clearly in the recyclable package.
I’ve visited many strawberry fields and can attest to how difficult picking can be. Harvesters bend over for hours 12-18 inches from the ground. The Masterplan system makes it easier and less back-breaking because the system is four feet above the ground. They’re able to pick faster, thus earning a better wage. Typically, berry fields have less than a 25% retention rate. Masterplan is close to 100%, thanks to these improved working conditions.
These stats are wonderful, however you must try them for yourself as they’re full of flavor and beauty. In a world where popular labels are owned by huge corporations, we are buying from David the farmer, and I love that!