How to Grow Strawberries for Profit

The story of how city kid John Zoeller made a little extra money when he arranged to grow strawberries on a small piece of his father's Ohio farm in the early 1970s.

| May/June 1973

  • Strawberries - professional picker
    The well-filled and organized box of a professional picker.
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    Visitors to the Zoeller patch had the option to pick their own or pay a little more for pre-picked berries.
  • 021-065-01
    A small group of customers who opted to pick their own.

  • Strawberries - professional picker
  • 021-065-01a
  • 021-065-01

Two thousand dollars per acre with only average production, and double the money for exceptional results . . . that's what strawberries can do for you. What better helper could you find to pay off the mortgage on the old homestead?

Of course—as my neighbor John Zoeller would be quick to tell you—a modest amount of work (mostly supervisory) goes into this fine cash crop. But that fact doesn't keep the young New Riegel, Ohio grower from looking forward to his next year of raising and marketing berries as a sideline.

Back two springs ago—when he found that his regular 40-hour job left him with plenty of evening working time after the switch to daylight saving—John decided he could stand more action, and started looking into the glowing reports he'd heard about the strawberry business. The big, luscious specimens pictured in nursery catalogs were as hypnotic as the shining disc swinging from a mesmerist's bony fingers, and the growing instructions almost implied that anyone could produce a bountiful crop by waving a magic wand.

However, Zoeller—born and bred on a farm—wasn't easily fooled. He knew that only weeds are that simple to raise. To learn the sweet and sour sides of strawberry culture, he visited an established commercial grower . . . and was startled to find that the records he examined there made the catalog claims look almost modest!

Once he knew the idea was sound, John's next question was, "Where do I plant my cash crop?" There was no space around the house he rented, so Zoeller propositioned his father—a successful nearby farmer with plenty of acreage—for a sliver from one of his fields.

Wilfred Zoeller enthusiastically endorsed his son's idea. He even suggested that more land be devoted to the undertaking so that John's two teenage sisters could share in the project. After talking it over, the family agreed that two or three acres between the farmhouse and the highway—where customers could park safely along the lane leading to the Zoeller house—looked like a good location. They decided to set out two and a half acres of strawberries immediately (so they'd have fruit to sell the following spring).

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