Longtime growers protective of Florida Mountain turnip label
You can't call it a Florida Mountain turnip unless it's grown on Florida Mountain. Keep that in mind this turnip season -- because it seems that turnips claiming false origins have been turning up here and there.
Two years ago, Jerrid Burdick, whose family has been farming turnips on Florida Mountain since the Great Depression, started a Facebook page dedicated to the Florida Mountain turnip.
He said he's not accusing anyone of anything -- but after Tropical Storm Irene, when his family's farm was wiped out, waterlogged and nearly turnipless, he saw a lot of stores still carrying so-called Florida Mountain turnips.
There's some skepticism about whether those turnips really come from Florida Mountain. Burdick said there are only so many Florida farmers that still grow turnips, and that year was a bad one.
Burdick doesn't claim to be the only turnip grower on Florida Mountain. A few families still grow them; some people even sell them out of their homes.
PHOTO GALLERY | Shop owner spreads word to protect Florida Mountain Turnips
Since Irene, Burdick has seen the alleged imposter turnips in stores during the holidays, and sometimes even before the harvest. Florida Mountain turnips are harvested after multiple frosts, which is said to contribute to their sweeter flavor.
"I haven't done my own independent investigation," Burdick said. "It's just that there's no way there's enough Florida Mountain turnips to be [showing up for sale] in all these different places. ... You can't sit there and say you have Florida Mountain turnips if they're not grown on Florida Mountain."
Jerrid Burdick's Facebook page says the turnip is actually "a Laurentian purple-top rutabaga."
A real Florida Mountain turnip is not wax-coated, like most turnips are when they get to the grocery store. A Florida Mountain turnip is a bit bigger than your average turnip.
It's also unattractive, even after it's washed. The sweet taste is what sets it apart and makes it a brand and a legacy. The area's climate and rocky soil, plus a special seed with French Canadian heritage, are what make the turnip unique and sweet.
Florida has been known for its turnips since the mid-1800s, according to a 2010 Berkshire Eagle article. In fact, there's also a Florida Turnip Festival, which ran from 1973 to 1984, then was reborn in 2010.
"The seeds have to struggle to get through the surface, between all the rocks and everything else. The struggle makes them good," Jerrid's uncle, the Rev. Roy C. Burdick said.
Roy Burdick is 80. He hasn't grown turnips in a long time, but he grew up with them, and he lives in Florida "about 2,000 feet away" from where he grew up.
"There's been lots of articles written about them, but there's fewer and fewer people growing them," he said.
Jerrid Burdick said he feels strongly about this issue because of his family heritage. He emphasized he's not trying to start any turnip drama -- he just feels that if it's not grown on Florida Mountain, it's not technically a Florida Mountain turnip, and that's that.
Burdick owns Tux Express on North Street in Pittsfield. On Tuesday, he was busy helping customers with rentals -- and overseeing turnip pickups. He said some Berkshirites who have moved out of the area still crave the big root vegetable, so the Burdick family ships them out.
He said he wants to help people know the difference between a garden-variety turnip and a Florida Mountain turnip. It's his family's legacy, after all.
"I'm not doing this to be a jerk to anybody at all," he said. "As a Burdick, I have a very big connection to this because this is how my family made a living and how they make a living. When I was a kid, we had fields of turnips. That helped us out a lot through winter."
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