The Marshall strawberry, once regarded as “the finest eating strawberry in America,” is facing extinction. Like so many other heirloom fruit and vegetables, it fell out of commercial favor in the 1960s as traits such as yield, shelf life and the ability to survive transportation were selected over other considerations such as…well…taste! But artist Leah Gauthier has taken up the cause of the humble little fruit and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring it back from the brink and onto our tables.
The Marshall strawberry was first released for cultivation in 1893 and was once widely grown and appreciated in North America. In 1939, it was cited as “the standard of excellence for the entire northern strawberry industry,” in a noted agricultural encyclopedia. However, because the fruit doesn’t travel well, it is best suited to domestic and small-scale production and it fell victim to commercial imperatives. By 2007 there were only three plants left in existence; all clones based at the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Unsurprisingly, it was also included on the Slow Food’s Most Endangered Foods List. Gauthier saw the strawberry variety on the list and was drawn to it since her practice utilizes food. She wrote to the Repository and requested some runners, which they happily sent her.
Those first small plants soon became hundreds, and now Gauthier sells runners so that others can help reestablish the variety in their home gardens. With over 400 plants distributed and multiplying, Gauthier sees the next phase in the project as the development of grower hubs, “so even more backyard gardeners can have local access to Marshall plants at an affordable price without the necessity of shipping long distances.” This is where the Kickstarter campaign comes in.
Funds raised will help to establish grower hubs and decentralize the project. They will also be used to expand the Marshall strawberry website to allow pages for the hubs to provide more detailed information to local growers, and to help those who wish to source plants for home or small-scale commercial growing. It is hoped the site will also be able to collect and share stories from those who remember the Marshall in its heyday.
Rewards from the campaign include plants for either local pick up or delivery, as well as ready-to-hang, limited edition, C-type prints Gauthier has created featuring the fruit.
Photos via Marshall Strawberry