Here at The FruitGuys we work with fruit all week, but we still love it on the weekends. For those who haven't tried it we'd like to recommend a U-Pick outing. East Coast residents have incorporated apple picking into their fall activities for generations. With the growing interest in local farming, the varieties of “agri-tourism” are growing. Many farms now offer pick-your-own harvests and “agri-tainment” such as hayrides, hikes, tours, and programs for kids about farm life and ecology.
A family outing to an orchard is a delightful way to spend a day. For one, it gives you an appreciation for the food that others pick for you. Picking ripe fruit is a skill, and farmers at U-Pick ranches will gladly give you pointers. They'll also supply you with buckets and ladders. Some farms require that you sign liability waivers if you use ladders. But more orchards are growing semi-dwarf trees that are easy pickin’ and ideal for children.
If you get all your little farm hands working you should have a decent bounty. Two quarts of handpicked strawberries will make you feel rich. You may want to plan what to do with your day's gleanings—jams? Jellies? Or simply fresh gifts from the field for your friends at home. For those feeling timid about jam making, look into freezer jams, which require no cooking.
West Coast folks have a variety of harvests to choose from depending on the season. Brentwood, CA (Contra Costa County) is a great destination right now for picking stone fruits like white peaches and pluots. Harvest Time is a non-profit agritourism organization that produces a farm trails map of the area.
On the East Coast, a drive in the country will likely intersect with a “U-pick” farm. Weaver’s Orchard just west of Philadelphia has strawberries now. In the Midwest, summer berries can be found just 35 miles southwest of Chicago in Homer Glen, IL (Will County), Garden Patch has strawberries with raspberries, gooseberries, and currants.
To find a farm near you, try PickYourOwn.org. It’s always a good idea to call ahead to get the farm report before hitchin’ up your wagon.
- Heidi Lewis