Fresh strawberries in winter? 26 Seasons says yes!

New Zealand vertical farming company, 26 Seasons, has just released its first crop of locally grown, pesticide-free strawberries to select retailers amidst one of the wettest winters on record.

Few things epitomise the arrival of warmer weather quite like strawberries - whether eaten fresh at a picnic or adorning the Christmas Pavlova - they’re a staple of the Kiwi summer. All of that is about to change, however, as 26 Seasons has accomplished the seemingly impossible by successfully growing strawberries in the depths of winter.

Far from being the result of a genetically modified experiment, 26 Seasons’ premium super-sweet strawberries are grown sustainably in the company’s new flagship vertical farm. Inside their 1,350 square metre indoor farm, 26 Seasons mimics perfect strawberry growing conditions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by eliminating external environmental factors like weather, seasonality, pests and disease. While this first harvest is a limited release, the farm has the capacity to produce one million punnets of the freshest, sweetest, spray-free strawberries annually.

“We can make the off-season in season, all year long. As well as supplying locally grown produce outside of traditional growing seasons, vertical farming is a viable solution to the growing issue of food security,” says 26 Seasons CEO Grant Leach.

Despite the technological advances, 26 Seasons is still reliant on nature in maintaining the sustainability of its products. Natural predators are introduced to control any pests and bees are used to pollinate the flowers. Water is also recycled with just a fraction used (approximately 95% less) compared with outdoor farms and because there is no soil, there is no erosion or nutrient leaching. Being able to establish indoor vertical farms closer to consumers and produce seasonal favourites out of season, means fresher products and reduced food miles compared with imported products.

“Our vertically-farmed strawberries are juicy, sweet, pesticide-free and picked when ripe, smelling and tasting just as delicious in the middle of winter as they will do in the height of summer,” says Leach. “We are experimenting with tweaks to our lighting system allowing us to ‘dial up’ sweetness and colour.”

Among the select retailers to receive the strawberries is New World Thorndon in Wellington, where they have proven to be a hit with customers, says owner Reese Drake.

The year-round availability of local strawberries is a true game-changer, with many of your favourite summer dish recipes ready for you to enjoy whenever you like! And there’s potentially more on the way, as 26 Seasons look ahead to other fruits and vegetable they can grow out of season. Watch this space.

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