6 Reasons to Visit a Pick-Your-Own Farm this Summer

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last week, my good friend blogged about going strawberry picking with her husband and two kids. They visited a "pick your own" farm and picked 20 pounds (yes, POUNDS) of strawberries. All it cost them was 2 hours of their time and about $30.

If you're familiar with how much strawberries cost at the supermarket—and I surely am, since they are my favorite fruit in the world and I wait ALL YEAR for strawberry season—then you know how expensive they can be. One quart of strawberries (approximately 2 pounds of fruit) at the store can cost up to $4 to $8, depending on the season and region where you live—especially if you buy organic, since strawberries are one of the most heavily sprayed crops).

But monetary cost is only one part of the food equation. In truth, these berries often travel hundreds or thousands of miles from the farms where they were grown to the shelves in your supermarket. That has a high environmental cost—but even if you don't care much about that, it still affects the flavor, freshness and nutrient levels of your food. The longer any fruit or vegetable goes from farm to table, the more vitamins are lost along the way. And I won't even get into the taste! When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened, sunshine-warmed strawberry—or any fruit or vegetable for that matter—straight off the plant? If you said "Never," or that you "Can't remember," then my friend, it is time for you to make like a farmer and head to the fields pick your own.

You can find complete listings of pick-your-own farms near you by visiting the website www.PickYourOwn.org. You'll find farms where you can pick berries, apples, herbs and more, but typically, each of these different foods has their own short season of availability. In the Midwest, strawberry season will only last a couple more weeks, for example, but then it'll be time for blueberries and raspberries. I decided to visit Stokes Berry Farm, about 40 miles from my home. (I don't normally drive that far for anything, but for strawberries, I was willing to make an exception.)

6 Reasons to Visit a Pick-Your-Own Farm

1. Save Money. Most of the time, picking your own produce saves you money because you don't have to pay the added costs of someone else picking, packaging, shipping, and shelving your produce. Plus, buying in bulk tends to be less expensive than buying smaller quantities.

2. Pick Perfect Produce. Does it bother anyone else that you can pick an individual apple by perusing the apple stand, but HAVE to buy the whole quart of berries as-is, even when you can clearly see that some of them have seen better days? When you pick your own, you can control that—and choose perfection every time! No more moldy, squishy, under- or overripe fruits to surprise you at the bottom of your container!

3. Connect with the Earth. When I went strawberry picking, I felt a deeper connection to the earth than I do when I head to the big box grocery store in the suburbs. Upon exiting my car after parking, the sweet aroma of strawberries filled the air. It was heavenly! Every so often, I'd just stop picking, sit, and admire the scene, the quietness of the countryside, and the smell of berries in the air. I got my hands dirty, sat on the earth, waded through the rows of plants, and lived to tell about it. If you have kids, bring them along. Most kids today have never even seen what a fruit or vegetable plant looks like. They'll learn that, plus how to pick the best ones, how to tell when it's ripe, and what kind of bugs like to live in the rows of plants. It's educational and fun for the whole family!

4. Get Better Nutrition. Like I mentioned above, fruit and vegetables have more nutrients when you eat them as soon as possible after they're picked. Who knows how many days the California berries were in transit and sitting on the shelf in your Ohio supermarket! When you pick foods at the peak of freshness, they also taste better. And you can also freeze or can your surplus right away to preserve as much of that nutrition as possible—and enjoy it into the coming months.

5. Keep Farmers in Business. When you buy food directly from a farmer, you help support his self-owned business. Most of the food in America is either imported or grown by a handful of very large and powerful corporations that are putting the self-employed farmers out of business one by one. Like any small business, it's hard to compete with the "big guys." And yes it's true that sometimes, local food can cost more. But for many people who have the means to support it (or simply choose to in some cases), they're paying for so much more—the livelihood of people in their own communities who work hard at one of the most grueling and thankless jobs—feeding US. As I kneeled, crouched, bent over and sifted my way through rows of these berries in the hot sun, I thought about how much work was involved in planting, weeding, watering and harvesting them. It's easy to complain about the high prices of food when you buy it at a store and don't really think about what goes into it. But when you do the work yourself—you have a newfound appreciation for how your food dollars cover the hours of physical labor involved in bringing food to your store.

6. Remember Where Your Food Comes From. When was the last time you really thought about where you food came from—besides that you got it at the store. When you shop at the grocery store, you have no real connection to the farm or farmers who worked so hard to grow the food that nourishes you. What are their farming practices? Do they use pesticides? How are their farm hands treated? Visiting your local farmers market or pick-your-own farms can help you establish a connection to the place where you food comes from—and you'll appreciate every bite even more.

My first experience on a pick-your-own farm was fabulous! I made it home with 13 pounds of fresh, fragrant strawberries, and they were the sweetest, juiciest fruits I have ever eaten in my life. I ate them by the handfuls for several few days, made my first strawberry pie (this recipe from Cook's Illustrated is detailed and took several hours, but was SO worth it), and then froze the remaining berries so that I can enjoy that perfect taste and nutrition long after strawberry season is over. In fact, I've decided that this farm picking experience is going to be the first of many. I already have plans to go back to pick more berries before this short season is over, and then to return when blueberries are ready for picking. I highly recommend that you try it yourself, too!

Here's a portion of my 13-pound loot (after I ate several handfuls)!

Have you ever picked your own fruits or vegetables from a local farm—or from your own garden? Now that you know a few good reasons why it's important, are you more likely to try it?

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Fresh is always better. My son had his first from-the road-side-market tomato when he was 8 and decided he needed to grow his own.(He's 18 today!) We have ever since and the only thing better than eating them, is watching the children gather them. The kids now see how gardening works! Report
I love to go to the Pick You Own places near us! I've gone every weekend for the last 4 Weeks or so. The strawberries and peaches and blueberries are unbelievably good. I've spent hours cutting and freezing fresh fruit but it's so worth it to be able to pull out a package in the middle of winter and not have to buy fruit at the store. I love listening to the little kids out picking for the first time. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I get such a kick out of seeing their berry stained faces, hands and clothes! We're very lucky that our local Pick Your Own farm is ramping up to have year round produce (I live in FL). I'm looking forward to all of the new things to choose from! Report
I went and picked cherries and blackberries for the first time this year. They were sooooo good! I will definitely go next year again when they are in season. Report
I work at an orchard where we have pick your own. I have picked apples, cherries and raspberries. Report
We go strawberry, blueberry,raspberry,peach, apple and tons of veggie picking every summer. I can some or make jam for the kids. We love the time we spend together and how much better fresh picked tastes. Report
Went picking strawberries last saturday. We only picked 7 lbs. The farm is only a few miles from our house. I froze most of the strawberries and shared some with our parents to enjoy. My son and I have been enjoying strawberry/banana smoothies with the frozen strawberries. So much that we only have 1 ziploc bag left I told him we need to go pick some more! Report
I grew up in Africa where we had fruit trees( mango, guava, peach, orange, papaya) and vegetables growing in the back yard. We rarely bought any fruit or vegetables. Here in the US we have a vegetable garden but no fruit trees. I saw a strawberry farm last weekend and plan to take my kids picking, hope it will be fun. Report
I just used the PYO web-link and found a few farms here within traveling distance. The going price for the strawberries is $2.19 lb. I just wish that they were organic!!! They aren't. So, I,m not too sure if I'll be going. I am really trying to eat clean AND healthy!! Report
i live in paris and just outside the city is a cooperative of farms called the "straw hat" and they let you pick anything! when we went at the end of april we picked radish, lettuce, carrots, asparagus, and tulips. i can't wait to go back to see what new fruits and vegetables have sprouted. best way to spend a spring/summer day Report
I picked strawberries as a kid in Florida and now we live in SC and there is a farm not to far from out house . My husband stays home with the kids and they go during the summer. Blueberries, grapes, strawberries and apples. We also have some pear and plum tree in our yard that bared some fruit for the first time last year. The kids love it all. and most of what they pick never makes it to the house. Report
I have picked strawberries in the past. Once in Tennessee in the blazing sun, miles (literally) from your car and a rest room. By 10 when we arrived all the easy picking was done. You get the picture! I am now unable to get down low to the ground because of my knees. But I DO pick blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Throw a couple cups of frozen berries into greek style yogurt for a great treat all year round. Report
Berry picking for me is like Tom Sawyer painting the fence...it sounds sooo fun, so I think I love it, but then I get there and it's hot, sweaty, and difficult. :) That doesn't stop me from doing it! Report
I've been picking blueberries ever since I was little and they grew wild where we camped. When I lived in NH I coaxed friends to go pick raspberries and blueberries with me for a fun filled day. Then when we transplanted and made roots here in NC I make sure each year we go pick our own: strawberries (I'm talking 19 pounds or more, having a freezer helps a lot), blueberries, we've picked corn from my husband's friend's farm, and pumpkin picking in the fall for the perfect Jack-o-Lantern. My husband and son usually eat more than gets in their buckets but its all about creating memories, eating healthy, and having family fun and working together. I LOVE being able to pick a bag of frozen fruit or veggies we hand picked ourselves out in the dead of winter to enjoy a summer memory. If you've never tried I recommend this with all my heart. Report
Our family has been apple, raspberry, blueberry and strawberry picking in Illinois, Michigan, and Texas. It's hot work - especially in Texas where we live now. Made us truly appreciate the quantity of fruits in grocery stores and sometimes the high price! Report
You are making me wax nostalgic - my best friend and I taking our kids strawberry picking - they should have weighed the kids before and after and charged us the difference though! LOL Report
I'm a big believer in gardening & supporting local farmers, as well as "pick yourself" farms. There is nothing like a tomato picked from your own garden in August, yum! Report
Nothing tastes as good as fresh fruits and veggies. Then, consider the exercise that you get during the picking, cleaning, and preserving of the produce. Report
I wish I lived near a "pick your own" farm. Luckily, there's a good farmer's market near my home. Report
Since moving to the country my husband and I pick our own fruit and veggies. I do a lot of jams and canning for the winter months. It really saves a lot of money and you know what is in them. It is also something we love to do together out in the open air. At the moment the tomatoes are going crazy in the garden and I am putting up tomato sauce and salsa. Report
We used to go berry picking all the time. My favorite was cherry picking in the Finger Lakes area of NY. I loved to climb the trees to get to ones on top where no one else would go. We also picked strawberries and blueberries. It's a great thing to do, but haven't done it in quite a long time. Maybe it's time to get back out there again.

No, I have not thought about picking my own berries. That is definitely a way to get in your exercise. Lately here in Texas it has been very hot (3 digits), so it would be too hot to pick any fruits or vegetables. I do agree it seems to be less expensive. Report
Just spent 2 hours of picking strawberries. It was great. My cousin and I usually do the whole round of fresh fruit picking in the area over the summer. Starting with berries, cherries and then blueberries. The berries I picked today cost half what they are in the grocery store and we support our local farmers as well!! Report
One of the coolest things about my parents is that they took my sisters and I to pick strawberries when we were kids. It was so fun for us, and we'd always steal a bunch and eat them on the spot. I also remember picking apples, pears, and blackberries with my family. Good memories! I really want to relive the experience and get some of that warm strawberry goodness in my mouth, so I'm looking up a farm nearby on the website in this article. Thanks! Report
Umm, what's the reptile/amphibian presence at things like these? I live in the Ohio Valley and the reason I don't garden is because I have an irrational fear of snakes and I really don't like toads. Gardens attract bugs, which attrack toads, which in turn attract snakes. I know I'm sounding really whimpy here and the rewards probably far outweight the risk, but I have to ask the question.

How many berry-pickers have encountered snakes during their expeditions? Report
In the past I have picked tomatoes and corn and peaches and plums at U-Pick farms...but every year I pick my own strawberries. I like to eat them fresh of course, but I also make freezer jam. It's usually parents with small children and me out there picking...I don't care. It's one of my annual traditions...and my small way to try to keep some farm land close to where I live. Report
We love strawberry picking! We try to do this every year. Our season just started out here in Minnesota so we are hoping to get out there this weekend.

We end up getting great pics of the kids..... red mouths from eating the strawberries as they pick! Great family thing to do! Report
What a great reminder of something fun and healthy to do! I am going to plan a family outing to a local farm for this next week! Thank you! Report
This is fantastic! I used to go with my mom when I was younger to pick produce but haven't done it in years. I found a berry farm right near where I live and I had no idea. I'm planning to go this week!! Report
i go strawberry pickign every summer. ever since i had them juicy sweet tiny little babies i just cant go back to store bought, chemical growth enhanced, flavorless crap. the smae goes for the peach i tried at state fair cost me $2 for it, but it darn sure the best peach i have ever tasted. first bite into it, and it litteraly juiced all over my shirt. its amazing. i make the best pies out of fresh picked strawberries. they go mushy quickly if you dont cool them right away. sun/heat bad for them. Report
I pick mostly from my own organic garden. Tonight we had steamed peas, green beans, tomatoes, onions, carrots and patty pan squash seasoned with oregano, rosemary, and thyme. We put it over rice. Ooh yum! Report
My grandparents used to have a strawberry patch. I have also picked blueberries at a farm. I was just telling my husband today that I can't find a canteloupe that tastes like the ones my grandpa grew. He grew the best canteloupes and watermelons! Report
We used to pick-your-own tomatoes for tomato sauce. We'd leave at the crack of dawn, and drive what seemed like hours to get to the field, but the sauce was always worth it! We have a garden now (the first in 15 years of marriage), and I look forward to having homegrown tomatoes again. Report
Never have! Sounds fun! I would love to! Sounds like good exercise too! :) Report
It is definitely something I will have to look into. I used to pick peas & watermelons long ago! Once done, we got to pick a watermelon & I ate the whole thing, I was so sick! I used to see watermelons & had to have them but now, every now & again. I will look into it for my boys! Report
I pick blueberries and apples every year. I also grow tomatoes, peppers, beans and squash. Nothing can beat a home grown tomato. Report
I will tell you, I have raspberries, figs, zuchinni, tomatoes, lettuce, swiss chard, peppers, beans, cucumbers and a bunch of herbs in my yard and you cannot know how excited I am when I get to pick that first (and hopefully many more) friut or veggie off the plant! Yesterday I saw my first two almost ripe raspberries and I was dancing around the yard! I just love this time of year if for nothing other than my garden! Report
I haven't gone picking in so long but I love it! I'm so happy that I live in Michigan, our cherry season is lovely! Besides, its such good exercise walking through the farm and focusing on finding perfect fruit and vegetables along the way completely distracts from the miles you've walked [until the next day! :) ]

I think that is an activity that I will need to get back to. And oh my goodness! Yes, organic strawberries will cost an arm and a leg up to the knee. Report
We have a garden in the back yard. My 4yo helps from planting to harvest. His fav is picking pea pods, wiping them on his pants and snacking right there. We also love the farmers market. It has a good feeling about it. Report
i took my kids picking last year. They loved it. It was a great family outing, and my kids were willing to help me make and try things we made out of the things we picked. With my younger son especially, if he helps with making it, he is more willing to try it. I can't wait to start this year. Report
I'm starving for fresh strawberries just reading about this. I hope it's not too late to get to the berry farm. Report
We belong to a cooperative farm which requires work hours. My 4 year old is begging to go help at the farm. And we picked 10 pounds of strawberries a week ago. Those are gone (ok half are frozen) so we need to go back. We hit a local farm for each fruit as it comes into season, June-October. We cry when the last apple is picked. Report
I just love the U-Pick/Pick your own farms. I need to get there this week and pick strawberries. Blueberries are great too they will be ready later this summer here. But right now I have spinach and lettuce that I've been picking in my garden. FYI - everyone - you don't need a lot of space to grow leaf lettuce and spinach! A small raised bed will provide you with salads for weeks! I even have a friend that grows lettuce in containers ie. large patio pots. If you grow it yourself you know they haven't been sprayed. Also I can wait for our first meal of sugar snap peas later this week. I LOVE SUMMER!!!!!!!!!!!! Report
Fresh picked blueberries have such a great taste! Freezing them spread out on a cookie sheet, and then placing them into your containers for freezing, keeps them from sticking together and getting ice crystals on them, I've found. Report
Great article! Checked out my state for pick your own veggies etc, So Disappointed not able to pull up the recipe for strawberry pie. Site said we had to be a member to obtain recipe. Report
I used to have a green thumb, not anymore. My husband has one.So we have some fresh products.We also had pick up from a farm that sell fresh produce like peaches and apples. Report
I am lucky because I am 15-20 minutes away from 3 pick your own farms. I love the strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apples, & peaches. It is no where near as expensive as the store and I get a little exercise too. They have veggies in the orchard store and other fruits as well. Report
I love pick your own," but watch out- there are good places & not so good. Last time I went apple-picking, they charged more for the apples I picked (non-organic) than the local grocery store charged for organic. It was not financially a good deal at all. Most of the spots I've found are not organic farms, & not all advertise their prices on the web. Report
strawberry picking has always been one of my favorite pasttimes since I was a child! My parents would pack all 5 of us kids up into the station wagon and head on out for a fun day of picking and eating (good thing they never weighed us!)... then that night my parents would make homemade strawberry jam and the whole house smelled delicious and we would have the strawberry "foam" on toast for breakfast... those were some of the best days!! Report
Me and my husband picked 6 pounds and made enough jam for a year. It was so much fun, we can't wait to go back and pick pumpkins! Report
I have been picking my own strawberries for the last two years. Since then I am making enough jam to last us the year, so much better than you can get in the store and cheaper!!!! :) it lots of fun to bring the kids. Report