We all look forward to Spring here in Malta. For one reason for sure is that we look forward to the local strawberry season as it blooms to its peak. In Malta one village which has become synonymous with the growing of strawberries is the rural village of Mġarr. Here we meet with Joe and Yana who despite all the current challenges are keeping our kitchens brimming with luscious Maltese strawberries.
“You do not just need four pairs of hands, but many more. Strawberries are very nutritious and popular. They are found in a number of products and are used in food like pastries, cakes, jams and pies. Food and culinary art enthusiasts tend to experiment with this fruit which contains multiple nutrients.
It is a spring fruit. It is planted in October and keeps producing fruit up to 6 months later. Our summers are too harsh. As soon as the temperature starts increasing, when it is over 30°C, it starts to deteriorate fast and decays quicker but tastes even better. It becomes particularly tasty.
The local temperature is ideal for its growth. The summer heat is too harsh for it and does not help because otherwise it would still produce fruit. It is a plant which keeps producing. Currently, because the temperature is stable, we collect the strawberries once a week. In January we do it once a fortnight. As the days get warmer they need to be picked more often.
Preparing for it is a huge expense. From January till now, we would have just covered our costs without taking into consideration the labour involved. Our children grow into this life so they give a helping hand. They enjoy helping out. I have an eighteen-month-old son who quickly spots a red strawberry and brings my attention to it. When they say they want to follow in my footsteps I do not encourage them because I know how hard it is and how unappreciated we are.
Water and location are the secrets to this fruit. Do not compare local and foreign strawberries. There is not comparison. The sun and the climate contribute towards making a fruit which is superior to another. And the Maltese fruit is far more superior to that which is imported. Most are deceived by their appearance and price.
At the moment the Maltese farmer is going through a crisis because we always end up being treated badly. Farmers have a lot against them, from insects attacking the seeds they plant and sow, nature that has a mind of its own and then humans themselves who try and cheat the farmer by slashing the price of their produce which they have grown with such skill and dedication.
For the second consecutive year, Festa Frawla of Mgarr will not be taking place. That used to be a good advertisement for us. Even though sales have not decreased since people look for and love strawberries, for us farmers who grow them it is a setback that we cannot exhibit our produce to the public.”
– Joe and Yana, (husband and wife) – Mġarr fields