“The pasture and lawn are rich with yellow of dandelion blossoms, on the roadside the bluets and Marshall Strawberry blossoms welcome the bobolinks as they run about in the grass or sing above them. There is a hum of bees and mosquitoes, an accompaniment to the song of the birds.” ~ A Harvard College article 1896
I have had a bit of a revival in my life, from gardening to writing my blog on homesteading and survival, I read voraciously about topics that are important to our survival and health. Currently I am reading a book called “Silent Spring,” By Rachel Carson. Written in 1962 it was a groundbreaking step for the environmental movement, it’s title and context revolves around the extinction of food and several species of birds, and the gist is it’s pretty much our fault.
Although the book has been challenged and called on the carpet on several topics, (big money and politics surrounding the pros and cons of DDT to under mind her writing)… Say what you will, Rachel was right! The Nostradamus of food culture you may say, from breast cancer to the extinction of Passenger Pigeons she predicted the long-term side effects of pesticides and the damage chemical genetic modification brings. How certain birds, mammals and foods would vanish from existence over a short period of time, simply due to our meddling. In the past it’s been our quest for the biggest, plumpest and prettiest food, we have strayed from the truth and skewed our perception about what is the perfect fruit is. Now it is our job to fix that damage, so I wanted to share with you a story… I give you the Marshall Strawberry.
About a hundred years ago a sweet petite strawberry garnered top attention in the food world. Named after its creator Marshall Ewell, he discovered a seedling by chance, he introduced it to the world in 1893 at a fair in Marshfield Hills Massachusetts and sold a majority of his first plants to a strawberry farm along the “Salmon Nation” off the San Juan Islands, in Washington State. The Marshall took off like a shot on the West Coast, blessed with testimonials like, “It is a great wonder, one of the deepest red handsomest berries I have ever seen.” “The vines enormous standing at least 20 inches in height.” ~ James Rogers 1893.
Marshall berries fast became the most popular berries in the nation, it’s capital being Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the star of heirloom seed catalogs until the 1940’s. Then by the beginning of World War II, Marshall’s were severely injured by crop diseases that were brought in by other countries. They stopped thriving when we began altering the soil conditions adding chemicals for the diseases causing irreparable damage to the Marshall, but seemed to be able to support other larger modified varieties. By the 1960’s bigger, faster, and (allegedly) better was the era of food, and the Marshall simply vanished… Almost.
Ten years ago the Marshall was deemed one of the 5 most important endangered foods, no plants could be located to be propagated or seeds located to be planted. One perfect strain of the Marshall was conserved at the USDA’s National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis Oregon, and there it slept until 2007… enter the heroine.
Leah Gauthier is an intermedia and relational artist from Bloomington Indiana. Her love of food and history inspired her to write a letter to the repository and simply ask for some. Since she was using them for her food and not experimenting on them, they happily sent her a few of the runners off the original “mother” plant. After 6 years those little plants have produced 600 more little ones, and now Leah is making them available to the public. I read about them in an article on Beekman1802.com, which inspired me to become a mom to this very rare plant. Let me tell you once you see them, you know how special they really are. Each baby Marshall Strawberry is individually numbered with a metal tag, shipped overnight in tiny mesh bags, included with a personalized letter and instructions. A treasured plant I will be treating like a pet, and any runners will be preserved in my garden or given as a gifts with their history attached.
Leah, The Beekman Boys and I don’t want to be the only one to pick up the charge for the Marshall berries. If we want them to survive we all need to help. Even David Karp the self titled “fruit detective.” A writer for the New York Times and Gourmet Magazine has his doubts about its preservation and how it struggles to survive he says, “it’s a struggle to find any producers willing to maintain the exquisite Marshall Strawberry.” “Too many farms are wrapped up in 21st Century dependence on chemically intensive agricultural systems for them to thrive.”
Now heres the rub, if you choose to get in on the revival, it’s not a cheap endeavor to purchase an endangered plant. At $30.00 per plant plus overnight shipping, you may cringe, but over time I truly believe it will be worth it and the berries will pay for themselves. From everything I have read they are the sweetest berries ever to have existed and I for one cannot wait for them to grow up, and produce fruit.
Please go to marshallstrawberry.com to buy your own. If you do please leave a comment here with your numbers, we can all connect together and be berry brothers.
“You will be helping to ensure a diverse and healthy food supply and to make sure this rare and delicious strawberry is available for future generations to enjoy.” ~ Leah Gauthier
I think Rachel Carson is smiling down at us happy about saving the Marshall, and would be inspired in the fact that we are bringing back the sounds of spring.
~ Amy Wexler
Renewing Americas Food Traditions by Gary Paul Nabhan