This summer, it’s time to try picking your own berries and summertime fruit! With all the attention being paid to the healthfulness of fresh produce, why not get some of the freshest fruit around—berries that you pick yourself. Not only will you walk away with a first-rate, hand-selected product, but you’ll have a good time in the process. This is a perfect way to introduce kids to the joy of gathering the harvest of a farm by hand, enjoying the sun warming their backs and the smell of fresh strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or raspberries.
Ripening times vary depending on the climate of your state, but July and August are usually prime times for blueberries and blackberries all across the country. Strawberries are still available in cooler northern climates. In addition, you’ll find a number of other u-pick crops like asparagus, pumpkins, corn, wine grapes, and apples. Whatever crop your area is known for, you can probably pick your own right at the farm!
When you go, take a few precautions to ensure that you’ll have a great experience. The sun can be hot on the farm, and it may take you some time to fill your flat, so wear plenty of sunscreen, bring water with you, and wear a hat and sunglasses to shield your eyes and face from the sun. If it might get chilly, you might also bring a long-sleeved shirt that you can tie around your waist.
U-pick fruit is usually sold by the flat or half-flat, meaning that you pay for the right to fill a container of that size with berries. The farmer may give you some instructions, then you’ll be turned loose on the field to hunt down your produce. Take care to pick fruit that’s ripe, but not overly ripe. It’s easy to get drawn in by a strawberry that’s very red but also past its prime.
If you have a specific project in mind for your fruit, pick accordingly. If you’re making jam or jelly, for instance, the look and shape of the fruit isn’t important—only the flavor. If you’ll be making pies or canning, you’ll want to find pretty specimens that will look great on your table. Little kids may enjoy picking small fruits, and they'll need to be coached to only pick ripe ones. Older children (aged 8 and above) are terrific companions for a fruit-picking day, especially if the crop is low to the ground, since their young bodies don't mind crouching for long periods of time. If you're picking apples, on the other hand, kids may get bored when they can't reach any fruit themselves.
After your day of harvesting, you might enjoy looking for a festival that celebrates the fruit you just accumulated. All of the U.S. this summer, towns will be putting on blueberry festivals, strawberry harvest parties, and blackberry pie-eating contests. You just might find a great idea for what to do with your fruit! If you aren't sure whether you'd like to try pies or cobbler or jam, just cover the fruit in a tightly sealed container and pop it into the freezer. It will keep nicely there for several months.
What if you'd like the benefits of hand-picked fruit but you don't have an afternoon to spend on the farm? Just head to farm country and look for the roadside stands where farmers sell their own produce. This is often sold by the flat, just like the u-pick produce, and comes at the height of ripeness. If you're interested in finding organic produce, look for a farm that has the word "organic" in the name. Then check with the farmer to make sure the food is certified organic--grown without harmful pesticides.