Local News

Students Stick With Strawberry for State Fruit

Posted October 15, 2001 12:57 p.m. EDT

— Some Goldsboro elementary school students have refused to back down from their stance that the strawberry should be North Carolina's state fruit.

Their position could prevent a bill from being passed this year, a legislator said Monday.

A retooled Senate bill recommends the scuppernong grape as the official state fruit, with the strawberry as the official red berry and the blueberry as the official blue berry.

That's not good enough, say students at Tommy's Road Elementary School, who want the strawberry to get top billing.

"We asked the students if they wanted to compromise. We told them there'd be a real possibility that we won't be able to get this done this year if they didn't," said Rep. Carolyn Russell, R-Wayne. "They voted not to compromise, so that's what I'll do."

The civic lesson began with Russell's visit last winter with Manning Musgrave's fourth-grade class at Tommy's Road Elementary. As Russell explained her role as a lawmaker, an idea jelled for the students: "let's make a law."

They discovered that the state didn't have an official fruit and proposed the strawberry.

North Carolina farmers grew more than 23 million pounds of strawberries in 2000, a crop worth more than $17.3 million, they found.

In February, Russell sponsored a bill that the N.C. House of Representatives passed a month later, just as the first strawberries were turning red. Strawberry season came and went. Peach season came and went. Baseball season came and almost went before the Senate took the bill seriously enough to discuss it at any length.

In late September, the Senate passed a bill that extols the scuppernong grape. The bill quotes British explorers who reported to Queen Elizabeth in the late 1500s that the barrier islands of North Carolina were full of grapes, "grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath not greater."

The Senate bill also notes that the state toast, written in 1904, refers to North Carolina as the land where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night.

The Senate bill proposes the dual-berry status for the strawberry and the blueberry, noting "these delicious berries are a good source of vitamins, a number of life-sustaining minerals, and dietary fiber."

State farmers grew 17.5 million pounds of blueberries last year, a crop valued at $18.1 million, according to state agricultural statistics. Agricultural production of all types of grapes, not just the thick-skinned scuppernongs, totaled 2,300 tons, which sold for $2.7 million.

After the Senate passed its version of the bill, the House had two options: to approve the Senate's three-fruit version or to continue fighting for the sole designation for the strawberry.

Russell left the decision to the students, who are now spread among three fifth-grade classes at Tommys Road. They voted 44-3 to stick with the strawberry.

The General Assembly has appointed a conference committee that will try to cobble a bill together before the end of the session.

"The blueberry spoiled the bill for the students," Russell said. "They weren't willing to share top berry status. I think we all could have lived with the grape."