April 9, 2002 - Strawberry Fields

Red, ripe, sweet and juicy -- the strawberries are ready to pick. And for one Tangipahoa Parish family, it's a tradition that goes back 75 years.

The tiny berry picker barely pauses in his work to answer the question. "How long have you been picking berries, Johnny?" "Two years." "Do you like helping your granddaddy out in the fields?" "Yes. It's fun." Six-year-old Jonathan Camelo is the fifth generation of berry pickers in the DiVittorio family. Frank DiVittorio came over from Italy around 1900 and settled in the fertile farm country of Tangipahoa Parish.

In 1927, he started his strawberry farm near Independence. "That's what they started with, strawberries," says Frank's descendant. "They started with five acres, and the family normally did the harvest." Dan DiVittorio is Frank's grandson. Johnny is Dan's grandson, keeping strawberries in the DiVittorio family for five generations.

Dan says, "I know that it's a fruit that everybody likes and that we have got to work hard for it, that it's something that we've got in our blood, that we've always stayed with it." "But it's better than broccoli, right? Everybody wants strawberries!" "Yes, sir!" The farm has grown quite a bit since Frank DiVittorio started his berry patch 75 years ago.

At the height of the season, workers will be pulling a thousand flats a day from these fields. The DiVittorio family says the secret of producing sweet strawberries is to grow them "from the ground up." They run extensive soil analysis every year before the first seed goes into the ground.