A Strawberry Experiment

On the left: Strawberries from the Farmer’s Market. On the right: Strawberries from Whole Foods.

Given the choice, most shoppers will choose produce at the peak of freshness. They want crisp, green lettuce.  They crave juicy, red tomatoes.  They long for plump, fragrant strawberries.  More on the berries later.

Back to the freshness issue.  One of the fundamental gripes about supermarket produce is the lack of freshness. The farmers often pick the fruit or vegetable in a vastly under ripe state to make shipping easier.  Moreover, the growers often ship the produce across multiple time zones.  Consequently, even if the produce is “organic,” the transport deepens our carbon footprint on the environment. 

The quest for high quality, eco-friendly produce leads foodies and health conscious shoppers to pop up farmers markets.  The produce is truly organic and the farmers usually grow their fruits and veggies within a hundred miles (160km) of the market.  As a result, the produce arrives at the market within twenty-four hours of being picked. 

However, environmentally sound crops have their price.  Due to the strict growing regulations, the produce often costs twice or three times the same product at the grocery store.  

I’m a freshness freak so I don’t mind paying extra for quality produce.  Last Saturday I visited the Sandy Springs farmers market, a pop up market in the city’s performing arts parking lot.  It’s a Mecca for the area’s foodies.  They go to see what looks good, enjoy the atmosphere and talk to the vendors.  And the vendors cherish talking to the customers, offering tips and advice about preparing what they’re selling. 

While taking in the market experience, the discriminating epicures breathe in the fresh air, hear live music and are willing to wait forty five minutes for a loaf of ciabatta.

As much as I relished the irony of capitalists waiting in a bread line, the overwhelmingly fruity aroma of strawberries pulled me away.  You don’t smell strawberries five feet (1.5m) away in the supermarket. 

So, I walked to the Mountain Earth Farms stand, which had a bumper crop of the U.S’s third most popular fruit.  I bought two pounds and began to toy with ideas (Semifreddo and a strawberry salad?  Ok!)  And, across the sidewalk, Yves Garden was selling very appealing Nasturtiums and Thai basil.  More inspiration. 

At this point, I had a minor epiphany.  “Is this produce truly superior to supermarket produce?”  Two quotes popped into my mind. The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche exclaimed, “This is the age of comparison!”  Moreover, the 21st century philosopher Drake declared, “Ayy!  Elevate, elevate/Only obligation is to tell it straight.” So, I put on my researcher’s hat and set out to compare the farmer’s market berries with supermarket berries.  And tell the results straight. 

However, to tell it straight, not just any supermarket produce would do.  I needed a market that boasted freshness and eco-friendliness.  As a result, I drove two miles (3.2km) down the street to Whole Foods. 

Whole Foods sets the benchmark for big box organic wholesomeness. The walls let you know how nourishing their brand is with ginormous catchphrases such as, “Eat with the seasons!” “The more you know, the better!” and “Direct From The Growers!”  Moreover, Whole Foods backs up its restorative claims by being hospital spotless.  In addition, the staff meticulously aligns the produce like military cadets awaiting inspection.  And, nobody waits for bread.

Thanks to data mining, Whole Foods presumes to know what you want and puts it in your face.  Since it’s summer, the strawberries stare you down as soon you walk in.  However, the grocery conglomerate failed to analyze the cool garnish database.  The store had no basil, much less Thai basil, and stocked a few packages of comatose edible flowers.

Nonetheless, I persisted in seeing the strawberry experiment through.  I bought two pounds of Driscoll’s berries and a package of the sluggish flowers to approximate the nasturtiums. Since Whole Foods didn’t have any basil, I drove twenty minutes to a Vietnamese market.  So, even though my first purchase was eco-friendly, I increased my carbon footprint in the name of science. 

And, science isn’t just a core subject to get us into our dream school.  Science is systematic, organized and ruthlessly objective.  Ideally, the scientist follows the evidence and lets the results speak for themselves.  As a result, in a perfect world the researcher’s feelings become irrelevant. 

This was my goal in comparing the farmer’s market crops with the Whole Foods produce.  Cold, hard data would determine which products had the empirical substance to distinguish themselves. 

A disclaimer.  I had to disqualify the flowers and Thai basil from the experiment.  The Whole Foods flowers were different species, rendering an examination moot.  Since the Thai basil came from two sources, the test matter had been contaminated.  Nonetheless, they’re all spiffy garnishes so I used them anyway. 

Now, onto the strawberries. 

First, where did the berries come from?  The Mountain Earth Farms berries came from Clarkesville, Ga., 84 miles from the market.  The Driscoll’s berries I bought at Whole Foods could have come from central California or central Mexico.  Central California is roughly 2,000 miles from Atlanta and Central Mexico about 1,500 miles. 

Second, how much did everything cost?  The total for the farmer’s market strawberries, nasturtiums and Thai basil came to $19.  I paid $9.38 at Whole Foods and the Vietnamese market for the same items.

How did they match up physically?

Since the strawberry aroma was the catalyst at the farmer’s market, I let smell be the first criterion.  The aroma of the farmer’s market berries popped out of the bag.  The fragrance had the intensity of an air freshener that weed smokers hang from their rearview mirrors to throw off the cops.  But natural.  However, the Whole Foods berries had a faint, stale perfume.  The bouquet was reminiscent of an electric air freshener left in the wall socket too long.

Next came the sight test.  The Whole Foods strawberries were mostly uniform in size (ping pong ballish) with a basic red color with streaks of white and green. On the other hand, the farmer’s market berries varied in size from teeny weeny to small. A few still had their stems. In addition, the farmer’s market berries ranged in color from crimson to garnet to mahogany. 

After giving the berries the once over, I began to chop and slice them for the semifreddo, salad and sauce.  Each berry had distinct tactile differences.  Prepping the farmer’s market strawberries was like running a knife through softened cream cheese.  On the other hand, the Whole Foods berries offered more resistance, like sawing through a popsicle stick with a dull hacksaw.

Once the berries were prepped, I began to put everything together.  I used the same techniques and measurements to assemble relatively duplicate desserts.  Judged on their own merits, each dessert would produce visually stunning results. 

So, what about a taste comparison?  Great question.  I had no panel to conduct a blind taste test.  In addition, the fact that I purchased the test subjects biased my decision.  (The farmer’s market berries were far superior.)  However, considered individually, each dessert would delightfully end a dinner party.   

In the end, the freshness question boils down to choice.  How much do I want to spend?  Does ingredient purity outweigh the convenience of the grocery store?  Do I have better things to do on a Saturday than compare strawberries?

If the answer to the last question is no, allow me to return to Nietzsche,  “If you gaze long enough into a strawberry, the strawberry will gaze back into you.”  And that’s telling it straight.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “A Strawberry Experiment

  1. Interesting experiment
    Live Love Laugh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was interesting, Mr. Ohh. And tasty, even for breakfast.

      Liked by 1 person

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