It’s one of the sweetest — yet briefest — times of the year in Arkansas: strawberry season.
At its most abundant, the season lasts only for a few short(cake) weeks. That even holds true in Arkansas locales that share a name with the berry: around the Strawberry River and in Strawberry, the Lawrence County town.
Not only is the strawberry not an actual berry (it’s an “aggregate fruit,” botanically speaking), it’s not the state’s official fruit. (That distinction belongs to the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato, Arkansas’ state fruit and vegetable — and an actual berry, botanically speaking.)
Still, the celebrated strawberry is certainly Arkansas’ jam, come April and May.
While Cabot’s Holland Bottom Farm LLC grows everything from okra to watermelon, strawberries have kept it fruitful.
“It’s what we started back in the ’80s when we were about to go broke,” says owner Tim Odom, a member of First Electric Cooperative. “That kept us on the farm, and that’s what we’re known for — strawberries.” Odom, who owns the farm with his wife, Leslie, took over after the 2015 death of his father, Larry, who founded the farm in 1969. The farm transitioned from a “u-pick” to a pre-picked berry operation in 1996.
Even though cooler temperatures delayed the harvesting of their strawberries — about 13 acres and 200,000 plants worth — by a few weeks, Odom is hopeful for a productive season. So is the cult-like following of fruit-seekers who flock to farms to secure fresh strawberries by the flat.
The flavorful Chandler strawberry is popular with Arkansas farmers, including Odom, who estimates, “98% of the time, we have all Chandlers. I’ve been tinkering the last couple years with a couple different varieties. … They’ve got different varieties that are firmer that you can ship better.” The Chandler, sweeter than some varieties, “is more of a farm-to- table berry,” he adds.
To maximize flavor, Odom says, “We try to pick them ripe. The riper they are, they don’t have as much shelf life. But you get your sweetness from waiting until they’re good and ripe.”
Beyond that, he says with a chuckle, “I let God do His work, and I just do the hard work. He makes them grow, and I just do all the labor.”