Let's go to Lot-et-Garonne in southwest France to reacquaint ourselves with the queen of all berries. At SCEA de Lussac, generations of growers have lavished their attention on strawberries within a supply chain that runs like a well-oiled machine.
The globetrotting strawberry! The fruit is thought to have come to France in the holds of ocean-going ships. The more-or-less official version of the story points to the role of the naval engineer Amédée-François Frézier who, in 1714, brought back a few plants from a journey to Chile. Today, the juicy red fruit's journey to your table begins right in France. For proof, look no further than our visit with the Mas family.
Increasingly high-tech methods
The bulk of strawberry production is concentrated in the southwest, with some farms in the Rhône-Alpes region and, to a far lesser extent, in Brittany. In this land of gourmet delights, the top-producing region in France is none other than Lot-et-Garonne, near the city of Agen. This is where the Mas family has grown the delicious red fruit for several generations, at SCEA de Lussac. At age 22, Luc followed in the footsteps of his father, Xavier, and his grandfather, Louis.
In Louis's day, hydroponic farming hardly existed ‒ or did not exist at all. Today, however, the majority of strawberries are grown this way in so-called "hanging gardens".
Why? Because this method makes the work less tedious. The Mas family business is no exception. "In a tall greenhouse and small tunnels, the strawberries grow in trays lined with a coir substrate," Luc explains. "The temperature, humidity, input volumes ‒ everything is monitored by sensors and by computer. With the HVE and GlobalGap certifications, we also work to capture rainwater from the greenhouse roof to irrigate the plants. And we've installed 18 bumblebee hives under the greenhouse for pollination."
The famous "gariguette"
The Mas family has focused primarily on this well-known strawberry variety, it's easy to understand why. Each year, "gariguette" strawberries brighten market stalls with their vermilion hues in early spring ‒ well ahead of their cousins.
Along with "ciflorette" and "charlotte", the "gariguette" variety is among the earliest and most widely cultivated in France. Then there is its subtle sweet-tart flavor, yielding texture and other valuable virtues: low in calories, high in vitamin C and antioxidants! Strawberry connoisseurs devour them from March to June, before turning their attention to other varieties, such as the slightly crunchy "mariguette", the wondrously fragrant and tender "charlotte", the woody "mara des bois" and the intensely aromatic "clery". There is something for everyone!
A consistent supply chain and quality endorsements
In France, strawberries can be awarded various seals of approval. For example, the Mas family grows strawberries with the "Label Rouge" certification, whose criteria focus on characteristics such as the even roundness of the fruit in specially designed baskets and the sugar content. "The strawberries are harvested gently, then sorted, stored and weighed before being shipped to a local co-op that sells them under the brand La Marmandise," Luc notes. It is one quality mark among many that attests to the perfectly organized strawberry sector in Lot-et-Garonne and in all of France's strawberry-growing regions, guaranteeing farm sustainability, a healthy market and consumer pleasure. Over to you!