Three cold-climate strawberry production systems, conventional matted row, advanced matted row, and cold-climate annual hill plasticulture, were compared for consumer preference in a pick-your-own (PYO) setting. Replicated 6 × 15 m plots were established in 2002 in Maryland and cropped in 2003 and 2004. To simulate PYO marketing, volunteers were recruited to harvest 3.6-m plots in each of the three production systems and to complete a five-part questionnaire. The questionnaire collected demographic information and allowed volunteers to compare the three systems both prior to and after their harvesting experience. Harvests were carried out twice weekly, with 75 participants in 2003 and 45 participants in 2004. The 2003 season was cool and wet, with frequent rainfall and a high incidence of fruit rot. Spring 2004 was unseasonably hot, resulting in an unusually short harvest season. Consumer preference differed between years and among harvests within a season. The annual hill system was favored early in the 2003 season, with preference shifting to the other systems as the season progressed. The advanced matted row was favored early in the 2004 season. Many of the participants' comments, both positive and negative, were directed at the plastic mulch and raised beds. In several cases, participants indicated that their preferences after picking from each system did not match their initial impressions. Implications of this research to the social components of sustainability will be discussed.
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