(March 26) ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — Strawberry buyers, retailers and brokers who descended on the strawberry fields in Orange County For the sixth annual strawberry field day learned an important lesson: It ain’t easy to pick and package strawberries.

The field day, which took place Feb. 27, featured presentations by growers, shippers and researchers as well as field tours and a strawberry picking contest. Sponsored by the Orange County Shipper Association, the field day was a way to mark the burgeoning 2002 strawberry season and educate retailers and the foodservice industry about the early promotional opportunities for Orange County strawberries.

“It’s really valuable for those involved in buying and procurement to get into the field and experience han-dling the product, seeing the challenges of working with the clamshells and getting the right amount of weight in the containers,” said Tim Hallows, national accounts manager for the California Strawberry Com-mission, Watsonville. “This gives them a good view of the challenges that growers and shippers have in pack-aging and shipping strawberries and makes them better able to communicate with their strawberry shippers later on.”

Strawberry commission representatives were on hand to provide attending retailers with important cate-gory management information on strawberries, as well as historic and current volume information and up-dates on packaging and the crop’s reaction to recent freezes.

In the picking contest, retailers and brokers were placed in teams and sent into the fields with strawberry containers, including both returnable plastic containers and the new standard footprint corrugated box filled with a variety of clamshell sizes. Each team had to quickly pick one box of berries that later would be graded for bruising, color, shape and container weight compliance by a quality control inspector.

Cynthia Forsch and Arnie Raubolt of Albertson’s Inc. received highest marks for tray presentation.