There are tons of farms all over the US that allow the general public to come in and pick your own produce. It’s a wonderful way to get out of the city and in touch with where your food comes from. Farm fresh food is more nutritious and you can create some new family traditions or even delve into the ancient art of food preservation.
A few years ago I started canning tomatoes, then I added sauces, jellies and jams and each year have added one or two more items as my confidence grew. Last year I made my own brandied mincemeat! All the products are far superior to anything you might find in the local grocery store. Some items you can do in big batches such as tomatoes and tomato sauce and other things like pumpkin, mincemeat, applesauce and jellies and jams can all be done in small batches while you are doing something else. Plus you re-use the glass containers which is also eco friendly.
Almost any produce that is grown in your area could have a nearby U Pick Farm. Each month brings the availability of a different fruit or vegetable. Remember, harvest dates vary by location, varieties planted, and weather conditions, so always call the farm before the earliest date below so you don’t miss the season!
Here are some typical U.S. dates for a few common crops, the South and Western United States will start earlier and the Northern climates later. Don’t forget what’s available will depend on what is grown in your area.
- March – April: Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- May - June: strawberries, apricots
- June – July: cherries
- June – August: blueberries, blackberries
- July – September: peaches, pears, figs, tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn
- July – October: raspberries
- August – Figs: Fall raspberries, early apples
- September – October: apples and grapes
- October: late apples, Pumpkins, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- December: Christmas trees
What You Need for a Trip to the Farm
Before you go, always call the farm to find out if the fruit/vegetables you want are available, to get directions, check their opening and closing hours and to ask if young children are welcome (some farms prohibit young children who might damage plants).
- Dress in old clothes and worn athletic shoes. You want to be comfortable and not worried about staining (berry juice) or tearing (raspberry brambles) your clothes!
- Pack for a day trip. Bring snacks, disposable wipes and plenty of water for the car trip.
- Pack a picnic lunch. You’ll be gone all day and all that picking and being outdoors will work up a big appetite. Eating outdoors is part of the experience! If you are picking fresh fruit you can have that for dessert!
- Don’t forget the camera. You may want to capture those memories you’re making.
- Bring containers for picking and for carrying the fruit home (smaller containers are better for children’s smaller hands). Some farms provide them, but usually for a fee so be sure to check before you go.
- Wide-brimmed hats help protect you from the summer sun.
- In any season, don’t forget sunscreen for the back of your neck and exposed skin.
- For autumn outings be sure to bring an extra layer or two to keep you warm.
Don’t bring along the family dog. The farmer will not allow them in the field due to potential damage to the crops and for health reasons.
At the Farm
Every farm is a bit different. Rules may vary from farm to farm so:
- Note and follow all rules and regulations posted by owners at their picking locations.
- Before picking, ask whether you will be charged according to weight, volume or count. Also, find out if there is a minimum quantity requirement.
- Locate the check-in and check-out areas.
Part of the reason for coming to the farm is to get in touch with your food and how it grows so take some time to talk with the farmer about the crop you will be picking. He can identify the various parts of the plant and show you how to find and determine if the fruit or vegetable you are picking is ripe. They can also make some recommendations of how to use your pickings.
If you have your kids along (and we hope that you do) instill in your children the idea that the plants are living things to be cared for and respected, not abused. Explain the farmer feeds his family and pays his bills from the well-being of these plants so it’s important to be respectful!
Ask where in the field you should pick. Farmer’s may rotate pickers through the fields or know where the field has been picked out, so you don’t waste time finding the ripe stuff!
Set a strict limit on the amount of time you will pick. Little ones can get bored and unruly after a time and you may be using muscles that are unaccustomed to squatting, reaching or lifting.
Fields and orchards can be large, make sure everyone knows where to meet up!
- Place trash in proper receptacles or take it with you;
- Stay clear of parked or moving tractors and equipment;
- Walk in the rows, don’t step on plants!
- Some farmers frown on stepping across rows, even if you do it carefully
The fun doesn’t have to end with just picking the fruit. Some farms also offer hay rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, gift shops, even restaurants. And if your children tire before you’ve gotten your fill of fruit, most places also sell pre-picked produce; you’ll still get better quality and a better price than the grocery store.
The weather could change without notice. If you get hit by a downpour, be ready to wait it out, or go to with a backup plan such as a visit to a nearby museum, tourist or historic site. Either way, you’ve created some shared family memories.
When you get home
In addition to creating a few fresh from the farm recipes featuring your picks you should also be prepared to freeze, can, or make jam from the excess.
There are tons of recipes for jellies, jams, preserves, sauces, pie fillings, pickles, relishes, salsas, syrups, chutneys and more that can easily be made in a simple water bath canner. Not to mention fruit leathers, dried fruits and freezing.
There are also many resources online for canning.
Fresh preserving.com (this is the official Ball site – the guys who make the preserving jars, lids and caps)
But I also have the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Make it a family event and every time you open a jar of homemade applesauce, pie filling or pickles you can have the memories of creating that amazing food together.