Manatee County farmer finds niche in organic strawberries

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. - Plant City is known as the winter strawberry capital of the world, but it has nothing on the Suncoast when it comes to organic strawberries.

Thanks to Wish Farms, the majority of the organic strawberries raised in Florida are grown in Manatee County.

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Wish Farms is a family business for Gary Wishnatzki. "My grandfather actually started the company way back in 1922 and he started as a wholesaler in New York City."

Gary owns Wish Farms and started raising organic strawberries about 14 years ago. We saw there was a void in the market; there was no organic berries being produced commercially here in Florida back in the early 2000, and we made some attempts at it and we lost several crops and made some mistakes along the way."

Wishnatzki says they learned a lot, too. Now Wish Farms is raising 180 acres of organic strawberries, making them the largest grower of organic strawberries in the state. "Approximately 75-80% of the organic berries produced in Florida come from our farm."

Wish Farms raises conventional and organic strawberries, but all of their organic berries are raised on a 1,500 acre farm in Manatee County.

"The thing is with organics, you have got higher cost to produce them, and normally you have lower yields, and you have much higher risk of potentially losing the whole crop to some type of disease because you can spray with conventional pesticides.”

But he says a lot customers prefer organic crops because farmers can only use natural fertilizers. "There are a lot of people that have the mindset they want to serve the safest, best possible food for their family."

The strawberries harvested in the morning are put right into packages. They are then refrigerated in a huge cooler and shipped out to grocery stores across the country -- often the same day.

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The plan at Wish Farms is to continue adding organic strawberry fields so they can increase the amount of organic strawberries raised right here in Manatee County.

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