Breaking Rules When The Result Is Worth It

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The strawberries at Harry’s Berries, grown in Oxnard, Calif., are harvested only once every five days, to give the fruit time to reach its peak flavor. Credit Amy Dickerson for The New York Times

Renegade behavior in the abstract attracts us almost always. We admit to favoring examples, cases, histories that point to unusual choices that we think provide a model for others to follow to solve problems. However, sometimes there is no choice but to point to the downside of renegade behavior, aka breaking the rules on which society depends. And there are plenty of lousy renegades we read about but do not foul up these pages with. Today, it’s coming up strawberries. Thanks to Rick and Molly and to Karen Stabiner for bringing this story forward:

Red, Ripe and Renegade: Berries That Break All the Rules

“This one should be O.K.,” he said, sounding not quite convinced. Then again, his definition of ripe is more stringent than most.

Mr. Gean and his wife, Molly, own Harry’s Berries, a strawberry farm on the inland edge of this coastal city north of Los Angeles where they do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.

The Geans grow Gaviota and Seascape strawberries, known for sweetness and flavor but not for productivity or the ability to survive shipping and days in a supermarket produce department. Until five years ago, the only place to find Harry’s Berries was at Southern California farmers’ markets — and today, the markets still make up 70 percent of the farm’s sales.

The berries are grown organically, despite initial skepticism from Mrs. Gean’s father, who founded the farm and swore that the unconventional approach wouldn’t work. And each section of the field is harvested only once every five days, to give the fruit enough time to reach its flavorful peak. Large-scale growers typically pick every three days.

Ripeness is all: When the berries run out, they run out, because the Geans would rather send a customer home empty-handed than with a berry that doesn’t meet their standards. That accounts for the lines that form an hour before the area’s biggest market, in Santa Monica, opens for business.

The farm, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary and more than 30 years at the markets, has been a shrine for generations of berry lovers, both professional chefs and customers who ate their first berry as toddlers and now push strollers of their own. Bucking tradition has worked out well: Last year, the Geans sold 500,000 pounds of strawberries…

Read the whole story here.

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