Tips for Picking Your Own Fruits and Vegetables
Not everyone has the space available to grow their own foods. Even if you do have a garden, you might not have the space to devote to enough of one crop to meet your needs for the year. Farmer's Markets are becoming more and more expensive, but yet there is a push to eat more fruits and vegetables, get your foods locally, and eat more organic foods. With Pick Your Own farms you can do all of these things, for a little bit of work and much less money.
One of the things I love about Ohio is all the Pick Your Own farms around. Within three days of moving here we were at a blueberry farm and came home with seventeen pounds. Not only did we get delicious blueberries for half the price of store bought, but we picked them ourselves so the nutrients were at their highest, we had a blast doing it and I had berries in my freezer to eat for the year. We were hooked from the beginning. Since that time we have been picking our own fruits several times a year and have definitely learned a few things.
There is a great website called Upick that has Pick Your Own farms listed by state (there are other countries listed on this site as well). Once you click on your state, you can narrow it down by region and then by county. Every Pick Your Own place should be listed here. BUT you need to be careful. I have found that a lot of the information is outdated and you can't go by just what the website says. Sometimes there are links to the farms and you can get more information by looking there. The best thing to do though is to call the farm directly.
I can not stress enough how important it is to call the farm before picking. Last year I had to call six places to find one that had blackberries, even though all of them had it listed on their site. Some years a crop just doesn't produce enough to warrant picking. Also, the crops are so dependent on weather that you have to call before heading out or it could mean a wasted trip. For instance, strawberry season usually starts here in early June. According to the Upick site picking started at several farms in my area on June 7th. Well with temps in the low 70's and overcast days, picking didn't actually start until the 14th. Good thing I called because we had planned on going last week.
Another reason to call is that even though they say they are open every day, doesn't mean they are. If the crops get picked out early in the week, many places will close late in the week to make sure that there is plenty for Saturday picking. The earlier you can go the better. Many places are picked out by lunch time each day, even though their hours might say until 5:00 pm. Basically they are open late only if they aren't picked out for the day. Plus going earlier means cooler temperatures and better tasting fruits and vegetables. Many foods need to be picked early in the day for the best flavor.
Each farm does things differently. Some places want you to bring your own containers, while some provide them for you. Usually you will get a lower price if you bring your own. Find out ahead of time what kind of payment they accept. Many farms will only accept cash and you want to be prepared.
When picking your own foods you want to dress for picking. Frequently farms can be muddy so wear old clothing and old shoes. Tennis shoes are the best, because you want closed toe shoes. There are also lots of bugs, so wear bug spray and sun screen to protect yourself. Depending on what you are picking it might be better to wear long pants and long sleeves. Blackberries for example are thorny. Even though it was hot, those of us that wore long sleeves and long pants did much better than those that wore shorts. You want picking your own foods to be fun, and getting cut up while doing it isn't fun.
Find out ahead of time whether the farm will let you munch on the fruits and veggies while you are picking. Some places encourage it while some places get very upset. Talk to your kids about what to expect ahead of time. Picking your own fruits and veggies is frequently a family affair and you want it to work well for everyone. If they know they can eat all they want once they get in the car, they will be better about not eating while you are picking. But my kids prefer to go to the places that let you eat while you pick.
When we pick our own we are looking for large quantities of one food. Then I spend a couple of days processing everything so that none of it goes bad. Time your picking for when you will have time to process it. One of the first times we picked we went in the late afternoon. I was too tired and it was too late for me to process the berries when we got home and by the next morning, I had a mess on my hands and had to throw a lot of berries out. It is easy to pick too much. For instance we came home yesterday with 43 pounds of strawberries. I was completely shocked when they weighed them all. I thought we only had 20 or so.
If you have never picked your own fruits and vegetables before it really is fun. You get great foods at great prices and it is as fresh as it is ever going to get. So find a place near you and enjoy a morning at the farm.