The Star-News

Uncertain future for berry field

Sat, Jul 06 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Robert Moreno

This strawberry season might be the last for the only strawberry farm in the South Bay.

The 60-acre plot of land on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street has produced strawberries for the last 27 years. Now it’s in escrow, said Fred Williamson, co-owner of Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce and the operator of the 4.18-acre strawberry field.

Williamson said the details of the sale have not been made known to him and he was told only that the land was in escrow.

“We got word through the seller’s attorney that they want us to terminate operations after the season’s harvest, which is in July,” Williamson said.

The strawberry patch’s owner is listed as Nelson, Jim and Lois LLP.

Chula Vista Councilwoman Mary Salas said the sale of the land shows the nature of the changing economy and the nature of developing the city.

For the past 27 years, Williamson would lease the piece of land on an annual basis. He said the potential new owners told him through their attorney that they don’t want the strawberry field to sign a new lease at the season’s end.

Williamson said he considered moving his operation elsewhere but doesn’t see that happening.

“To find a new ideal location is not out of the question but probably an extreme long shot,” he said.

What makes it a long shot is the probability of finding a piece of land that is suitable for growing strawberries, Williamson said.

Sam Kusaka, 86, a former commercial grower in Otay Mesa, runs the strawberry field and has since the field started operation.

Williamson said the news caught Kusaka off-guard. Williamson said he would like the field to stay open one more year, so Kusaka can have a chance to celebrate and leave on his own terms.

David Danciu, a frequent customer of the strawberry field, said he would like to see the strawberry field preserved.
“Sixty acres is a lot. They can have both (commercial and real estate) on the property and still have the strawberry field,” Danciu said. “We need to keep it for our heritage.”

Manuel Gonzalez, a lead worker on the farm, said he heard that the property is going to be used for residential development while Williamson said he heard that it might be for industrial use. Salas said she hasn’t been told what is to become of the land if it gets sold.

Williamson said he first leased the portion of land when he was straight out of college.

“I’ve never really expected to go on for 27 years,” he said. “I was just a young kid trying to think I can sell some strawberries, and here we are 27 years later.”

While Williamson remains nostalgic, field employees are worried about finding their next job.

“I have to look for another job now,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s hard to find another job.”

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