Pick up know-how for tackling diseases, pests and weeds.
Farm bill, farm marketing, agribusiness webinars, & farm policy.
Find tactics for healthy livestock and sound forages.
Scheduling and methods of irrigation.
Explore our Extension locations around the state.
Commercial row crop production in Arkansas.
Agriculture weed management resources.
Use virtual and real tools to improve critical calculations for farms and ranches.
Learn to ID forages and more.
Explore our research locations around the state.
Get the latest research results from our county agents.
Our programs include aquaculture, diagnostics, and energy conservation.
Keep our food, fiber and fuel supplies safe from disaster.
Private, Commercial & Non-commercial training and education.
Specialty crops including turfgrass, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals.
Find educational resources and get youth engaged in agriculture.
Gaining garden smarts and sharing skills.
Timely tips for the Arkansas home gardener.
Creating beauty in and around the home.
Maintenance calendar, and best practices.
Coaxing the best produce from asparagus to zucchini.
What’s wrong with my plants? The clinic can help.
Featured trees, vines, shrubs and flowers.
Ask our experts plant, animal, or insect questions.
Enjoying the sweet fruits of your labor.
Herbs, native plants, & reference desk QA.
Growing together from youth to maturity.
Crapemyrtles, hydrangeas, hort glossary, and weed ID databases.
Get beekeeping, honey production, and class information.
Grow a pollinator-friendly garden.
Schedule these timely events on your gardening calendar.
Equipping individuals to lead organizations, communities, and regions.
Guiding communities and regions toward vibrant and sustainable futures.
Guiding entrepreneurs from concept to profit.
Position your business to compete for government contracts.
Find trends, opportunities and impacts.
Providing unbiased information to enable educated votes on critical issues.
Increase your knowledge of public issues & get involved.
Research-based connection to government and policy issues.
Support Arkansas local food initiatives.
Read about our efforts.
Preparing for and recovering from disasters.
Licensing for forestry and wildlife professionals.
Preserving water quality and quantity.
Cleaner air for healthier living.
Firewood & bioenergy resources.
Managing a complex forest ecosystem.
Read about nature across Arkansas and the U.S.
Learn to manage wildlife on your land.
Soil quality and its use here in Arkansas.
Learn to ID unwanted plant and animal visitors.
Timely updates from our specialists.
Eating right and staying healthy.
Ensuring safe meals.
Take charge of your well-being.
Cooking with Arkansas foods.
Making the most of your money.
Making sound choices for families and ourselves.
Nurturing our future.
Get tips for food, fitness, finance, and more!
Understanding aging and its effects.
Giving back to the community.
Managing safely when disaster strikes.
Listen to our latest episode!
by Sherri Sanders
Searcy, Ark. –
For White County, strawberries represent far more than a sweet, juicy treat signaling
the beginning of another Arkansas summer.
Although “berry pickin’” for most folks these days means choosing a quart of strawberries to take home for
dinner, strawberries were once the source of an economic boom in towns such as Judsonia,
McRae and Bald Knob.
Strawberries made their appearance in White County when newcomers from the North brought
the succulent fruit south with them in the late 1800s. Daniel W. Wheaton is credited
with growing the first strawberry crop in White County in 1874, according to records
from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History’s website. After his venture proved successful,
strawberry farming quickly became the leading cash crop of the area. The sandy soil
that is ideal for growing strawberries, coupled with the proximity of the railroad
system to transport the berries, contributed greatly to the growth of the strawberry-farming
industry in White County.
On the outskirts of Judsonia, near the banks of the Little Red River, stand the remnants
of what was once the Judsonia Box Co. The factory was built by Jim and Frank Cathcart after their move south from Indiana in 1885, according to historical records. “The
box factory,” as longtime residents refer to it, produced wooden quart-size containers,
as well as crates, for storing and shipping strawberries.
Records state that by 1944, the box factory was cranking out 850,000 containers per
year and employing 60 to 120 workers during peak strawberry season. The location for
the box company at the base of the railroad bridge turned out to be perfect for the
thriving strawberry business.
The community of McRae enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity during the strawberry
boom, thanks in part to the timber industry’s clearing of land that was used for strawberry
farming. The crop was shipped by rail from the nearby community of Garner.
I came to work as a county agent in White county 20 years ago and I have fond memories
of spending time with Bill Holt in McRae in his matted row strawberries when I was
new to the county. I also met the late Henry Bowden and we became good friends. Henry
was a legend in these parts, as well as his best buddy, Jeff Smith. Jeff spearheaded
the Ozark Table Grape Growers Association and Henry worked for the University of Arkansas
at the Bald Knob Fruit Station. Henry’s service with the Division of Agriculture started in 1958 when he accepted a position as a research assistant
at the Truck Crops Research Station (now the Southwest Research and Extension Center)
at Hope. Subsequently he was resident director of the Strawberry Substation at Bald
Knob from 1959-1976 when the strawberry breeding program made its greatest accomplishments
and resident director of the Fruit Substation in Clarksville 1976-1982. He was a White
County agricultural agent from 1982-1988 and area horticulture agent from 1988 until
his retirement in 1992. The Bowden nectarine which was released by the University
of Arkansas in 2012 was named in his honor to acknowledge his contribution to the
Division’s fruit breeding program.
The ‘Cardinal’ strawberry was born and bred in Bald Knob. Dr. Jim Moore led the Fruit
Breeding program at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Moore and Henry were colleagues
and friends. Henry trialed a lot of Dr. Moore’s new releases, one of which was a
fantastic strawberry. The strawberry is a vigorous, productive variety. It produces large, deep-red berries that have outstanding flavor. The “cap” sits up
high on the berry, making it easily removed for dessert or freezing. Its ripening
period is extended over a long period of time (three to four weeks). ‘Cardinal’ is resistant to most diseases in Arkansas. It’s interesting how ‘Cardinal’ got it’s name. Henry told me the story, more than once: Dr. Moore, Henry and his wife, Betty
were sitting at the kitchen table one morning enjoying their new strawberry that would
soon be released. Dr. Moore wondered aloud about what to name the berry. Betty,
in her deep southern drawl simply said, “Jim it’s bright red just like a cardinal.”
I’ll go back to the tradition of White county strawberries now. According to stories of the time, Judsonia and McRae had long grappled for the title
“Strawberry Capital of the World.” As it turned out, the moniker stuck in Bald Knob,
where the city’s Strawberry Co. built the largest berry shed in the world, according
to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History. The structure was three-quarters of a mile
long and sat parallel to the tracks of the Missouri Pacific Railroad line. In the
peak year of 1951 alone, Bald Knob growers reportedly sold $3.5 million worth of strawberries.
The entire community was involved in the business of berries. As is recalled on the
White County Historical Society website, school would end its spring semester the
first week in May so children could take part in strawberry picking. The wage at the
time was chronicled to be a whopping 5 cents per quart, which pales in comparison
to consumer prices that sometimes top $5 for a quart of locally grown strawberries.
The historical society’s website also includes Raymond W. Toler’s recollection of
the unusual inspection practice used by his employer, “Mr. Ted,” at the strawberry
sheds near the railroad depot in Searcy in 1938 to ensure the quality of strawberries
upon their arrival for purchase:
“Mr. Ted would negotiate with the growers and pay them if their berries were up to
his rigid standards. To inspect the berries, he would have me or one of the other
workers take a crate, or case, chosen by him and set it down on the platform. He then
directed that the case be opened and one quart box of his choosing be removed. Oftentimes,
he chose a box on the bottom tier. Then the box was handed to Mr. Ted, who took it
in both hands and spread the berries on his ample stomach, which was covered with
a freshly laundered shirt. In this process, all berries from the box could be examined
closely. I suspect that the white shirt test was to check for overripe fruit that
would not survive rail shipment,” the website states.
Even though the strawberry industry met its decline in the 1960s, the city of Bald
Knob still pays homage to its past with a festival that celebrates all things strawberry
Additionally, the Bull Dog restaurant in Bald Knob pays tribute to the rich history
of the area by serving up the best "lip smacking" strawberry shortcake you've ever
Also, along Arkansas 367, the old Bald Knob strawberry shed is still visible to passersby.
Both the shed and the remains of the Judsonia Box Co. serve as reminders of the prominence
that strawberries once held in White County.
So, the next time you see a roadside stand with locally grown strawberries, pull in
and buy a flat. You are helping to keep the tradition alive!
For more information, contact the White County office at 501-268-5394.
By Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service2400 Old Searcy Landing Road, Searcy AR 72143 (501) 268-5394 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay. The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons
regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin,
religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any
other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.