French visitors visit the back roads of Manatee farming

jajones1@bradenton.comJanuary 22, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- It was like Farm City Week with an international flavor.

About three dozen French citizens, many of them farmers, toured agricultural operations Wednesday in East Manatee and Bradenton.

And, surprise, they liked many of the same things that excite American city folk when they get a chance to visit a farm.

Like being able to wade into a strawberry field and pick a pint of fruit.

Or tearing into American culinary fare at Strickland Ranch and going back for seconds of barbecue beef, cut green beans, macaroni and cheese and peach cobbler.

Renee Strickland noted beef in the barbecue sandwiches is the same as Manatee County fairgoers are enjoying this week.

"It's a nice way to introduce them to local grass-fed beef," Strickland said.

Sophie Lherbier of Pas de Calais came away from Strickland Ranch impressed by the size of the cattle operation.

In France, farms are relatively small, and "no one collects the cows with horses," Lherbier said.

On her 150-hectare farm in France, the family produces milk, potatoes, wheat and beet sugar, she said. A hectare is about 2.472 acres.

"We want to learn the difference between European and American farming methods," she said.

The visitors, sampling American life from Key West to Louisiana, were especially interested in taxes and the use of genetically modified crops.

At the 600-acre Wish Farms, field manager Terry Benefield gave the visitors a tour of the refrigerated storage facility, which pulls the temperature of the fruit down to 35 degrees.

Benefield said all strawberries can

be traced back to the person who picked them, and are accounted for with a bar code system.

Wish Farm produces strawberries on about 400 acres, and organic fruit on about 180 acres.

Asked if growing organic fruit is worthwhile, Benefield said it is profitable and brings about twice the price of regular fruit.

At Mixon Fruit Farms, translator Chris Raeymaekers kept the primarily French-speaking crowd informed about what the tour guide was saying.

"Rouge pamplemousse," he said, pointing out an area of red grapefruit.

Would the tour bring more business from Europe to Manatee County? Maybe not immediately, at least for beef, as the primary European appetite has been for U.S. pork.

But there does appear to be a growing appetite for another kind of product.

"There is a lot of interest in Europe for this kind of tour," Raeymaekers said.

After leaving Bradenton, the group headed for Orlando to visit a tropical fruit grower Thursday and the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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