PLANT CITY, Fla., March 27, 2010— -- At strawberry farms across southwest Florida, there's an unusual sight. Workers aren't picking strawberries, they're destroying them.
"We've got more berries than we know what to do with," said Matt Parke, a strawberry farmer.
Parke said that he was forced to tear through 60 acres, nearly half of his crop, to save his farm. He said that prices have dropped so much that it seems cheaper to let the fruit spoil than ship it to market.
Strawberry farmers can usually sell a flat of strawberries, about 12 pounds, for $12 this time of year. Today, there's so much fruit for the picking, a flat sells for as little as $3.
The trouble began during January's hard freeze when Parke and other farmers were spraying strawberry plants with water just to keep them alive. The freezing kept certain varieties of strawberries from growing. When the freeze thawed and temperatures rose, different strawberry varieties all became ready for harvest at the same time.
Even though the farmers have a good explanation for destroying their strawberries, across Florida there are many residents who are furious with the farmers for tossing out perfectly good strawberries. At a soup kitchen in Miami, where strawberries are hard to come by, they were shaking their heads at the incredible waste.
"There is no way else you can put it into words other than they are selfish people," Freddy Conyers said.
"Senseless for me, senseless," Timothy Strutz said.
Parke said he and other farmers aren't trying to anger people.
"We don't mean to, you know, hurt anybody, or do anything to make anybody upset," Parke said. "We're trying to make a living just like everybody else is."
Floridians Speak Out About Destruction of Strawberry Fields
In postings online, Floridians were certainly upset. One resident wrote that "it should be a crime to plow food under."
Another posting read, "I'll never buy another Florida strawberry again, this is nothing short of greed."
The people who live closest to the strawberry farms are doubly upset. Homeowners say that all the water the farmers used to save their crops in January dried up wells and caused large sinkholes that ruined homes in residential neighborhoods.
The home of Evan Chrietzberg and Cindy Kersey had to be condemned after it was ruined by a large sinkhole. When the couple found out that strawberries were being thrown out, they couldn't believe it.
"Incredulous, it's such a waste," Kersey said.
Some argue that farmers could avoid destroying some of their crop if they let people come and pick the extra berries themselves to take home, but farmers usually refuse to allow residents to do that. They worry that if someone is injured, they'd be held responsible.
At least one farmer in Plant City, Fla., has changed his mind and has opened his field to all. And the fruit is free.